Monday, October 30, 2006

Michael Lewis on Bill Parcells

Excellent piece of writing in this profile of Bill Parcells. Particularly illuminating: Parcells on manhood and the inner life--and struggle--of athletes.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Red Grange, 1925

The golden welloy headgear of Red Grange of Illinois flashed over Franklin field…His left arm is a rod of steel. When he shoots it out straight at the onrushing opposition they bowl over like so many tenpins.
--Harry Cross, the New York Times

Friday, October 27, 2006

St. Louis Cardinals, World Champions

Athletes bodies and faces reflect their times. Just click on the photograph (St. Louis Cardinals, 1909) and study the men. Compared to modern players--this is, afterall, hundred years before BALCO--the sluggers look practically malnourished. So it has a redemptive quality that in the Steroids Era, David Eckstein (5'7", 165 lbs.), a scrawny guy, who would look at home on the 1909 Cards, won the 2006 World Series MVP. "He's the toughest guy I've ever seen in a uniform," said St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa, who also managed Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire.

Smoke two joints in the mornin', smoke two joints at night: Ricky Williams interview

Interview of Ricky Williams, now a Toronto Argonaut, on the Canadian TV show The Hour. Whatever you think of Williams, the Heisman Trophy winner and erstwhile Miami Dolphin, he is certainly a great athlete and a fascinating dude...Also, on the same show, William Rhoden of the New York Times discusses his book, Forty Million Dollar Slaves: The Rise, Fall, and Redemption of the Black Athlete.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

St. Louis Cardinals Vs. Detroit Tigers, 1968: National Anthem

"The year was 1968. Martin Luther King had been assassinated earlier that spring. Robert Kennedy was murdered less than two months later. Our country was at war in Vietnam, as well as here, because of that conflict in Asia...Enter Jose Feliciano. The young, blind musician from Puerto Rico was having great success in Latin America with the Bolero and currently, a major hit on the American scene with 'Light My Fire.' He had been invited to sing the National Anthem at the fifth game of the World Series, for the Tigers against the St. Louis Cardinals, in Detroit, by veteran play-by-play announcer, Ernie Harwell...Jose was appearing in Las Vegas at the time with Frank Sinatra, at Caesar's Palace. An early morning flight brought the singer to Detroit where the game was to take place later that day...Before nearly 54,000 fans in the seats, and countless millions more tuned in to televisions and radios around the country, a nervous Jose walked out to left field with his guide dog, Trudy, and his guitar...

"Before he had completed his performance, however, he could feel the discontent within the waves of cheers and applause that spurred on the first pitch. 'Wonder what that was about?,' he thought, as he was escorted to the press box to enjoy a couple of innings before his flight back to Vegas for his shows later that evening.

"'Do you know what you did?' He was asked by someone in the box. 'You're causing a furor! The switchboard is lighting up with calls from people complaining about your singing The National Anthem!'

"Veterans, reportedly, threw their shoes at the television as he sang. Others questioned his right to stay in the United States, suggesting he should be deported..."

According to Jose Feliciano's Website, his rendition of the National Anthem in 1968 shadowed him for many years but it also changed the way the song has forever been sung at sporting events. Listen here to try and understand what the fuss was about.

Coaching rants

Monday, October 23, 2006

Is the USA the new East Germany?

Sports, at almost every level, has become overshadowed by performance-enhancing drugs. But what to do? The science is way ahead of the testing, and it seems like the drug cheats are winning the war. (Good profile in Sports Illustrated about BALCO chemist Patrick Arnold who talks about the future of these drugs. Countering the argument that drugs don’t help a batter hit a ball, he told SI, "A person taking testosterone is going to be focused and able to tune everything out. That's an aspect of steroids and how they affect hitting that people overlook: enhanced CSN [central nervous system] activation. It's reaction time.")

There has always been a degree of dishonesty in sports, just look at last night's World Series game with the "dirt" on Detroit Tigers pitcher Kenny Rogers' hand; or, the famous shot heard 'round the world--the New York Giants beating the Brooklyn Dodgers when Bobby Thomson hit a home run off Ralph Branca--which is the subject of a new book examining how signs were stolen during that legendary 1951 game. But drug cheats are really redefining sports, and the culture around it. Lance Armstrong's achievements have been tainted by the specter, real or imagined, of cheating. Ditto Barry Bonds. It is a surreal, and helpless, time in athletics.

"I don't want my grandchildren to have to become chemical stockpiles in order to be good at sports and to have fun at it," Dick Pound, chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), once said. "Baseball, take your kid out to the ballpark some day and you say, 'Son, some day if you ingest enough of this shit, you might be a player on that field, too.' It's a completely antithetical view to what sport should have been in the first place. It's essentially a humanistic endeavor to see how far you can go on your own talent."

So how does this define who we are as a culture?

Remember during the Cold War how the East German swimmers would win Olympic medal after Olympic medal? I remember watching those ox-women, knowing something was awfully wrong. I remember thinking that they represented a society of cheaters, of people who were fooling themselves. (They were also a little spooky with those broad shoulders and the five o'clock shadow.) Have we become a sort of East Germany? Floyd Landis, Barry Bonds, today's news of the suspension of San Diego Chargers Shawne Merriman (for steroids, according to ESPN) and the seemingly daily announcement of yet another failed drug test (greeted with nary a yawn). There is a fundamental difference between the US of A and East Germany, of course, this is not a state-sponsored campaign. Americans are more individualistic so we are cheating as individuals. That makes it even more frightening. Individuals are choosing to cheat, not being forced into it by a demonic governing body. And yet, our sporting landscape is not unlike East Germany not so many years ago, where citizens were sold on distortions of greatness. Shall we accept performance-enhancing drugs as part of sports? Apparently, we already have.

UPDATE: East German doping victims get compensation. AP article here.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Malcolm Gladwell on sports

New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, has been blogging about sports and sportswriting.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Crime wave

Wherever you stand on violence and sports--it helps channel, and thus tampers violent behavior; or, the intensity brings out the worst in people; or, the simplistic it-just-reflects-our-society argument--has there ever been more criminal behavior (some alleged) associated with sports?

October Crime Blotter:

1) Last week Indiana Pacers guard Stephen Jackson was hit with a felony charge for shooting a gun during a recent fight outside a strip club.

2) On Saturday the University of Miami and Florida International were in a major brawl with one player using his helmet to hit another player. Suspensions were handed out in a milquetoast fashion. The Hurricanes issued 13 one game suspensions (FIU issued 18), but Miami's next game is against lowly Duke. Miami's Anthony Reddick, the player wielding his helmet as a weapon before smashing it into an FIU player, was given only a one game suspension but, alas, that was increased to an indefinite one. The brawl was the third on-field incident in Miami's past seven games, but the rather weak reaction from Miami's higher-ups is surprising since Donna Shalala, President Clinton's Secretary of Health and Human Services, is the president of the University of Miami. In a related incident, a TV analyst was fired for condoning the melee: "I say, why don't they just meet outside in the tunnel after the ball game and get it on some more?" he said.

3) Another incident on Saturday: Dartmouth (yes Dartmouth) football players threw punches instead of shaking hands at the end of Saturday's game with Holy Cross. HC came from behind to beat Dartmouth 24-21 with a field goal in overtime. After the victory the HC players celebrated atop the Dartmouth "D" painted on the field, leading to fights breaking out between the teams when they lined up for the customary postgame handshakes. Witnesses said some players were thrown to the ground and kicked. Coaches, campus security and the police broke it up.

4) Garrett Bliss, a fullback with the University of Northern Colorado football team, was arrested on suspicion of third-degree assault early yesterday, after a fight outside an apartment complex. Bliss is the third UNC football player in five weeks to be accused in altercations in and around Greeley, Colo., where, the school is located.

5) Today the Associated Press reported: Dominican authorities were seeking Juan Uribe after issuing an arrest warrant Monday for the Chicago White Sox shortstop in connection with the shooting of two men. Uribe and a bodyguard are suspected of shooting and wounding a Dominican farmer and a captain in the Italian Navy with a pistol and a shotgun when the pair walked too close to Uribe's jeep around midnight Friday, authorities said.

6) Earlier in October, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth stomped on Dallas Cowboys center Andre Gurode's face and was ejected. Gurode needed stitches above his left eye and didn't return because of blurry vision.

7) And, while this is not necessarily in the criminal behavior category, it merits a mention: Mike Tyson announced his "Mike Tyson's World Tour" and said he would like to box a woman.

DECEMBER UPDATE: Nuggets-Knicks Brawl.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Role of the Role Player

The Yankees early exit from the playoffs is yet another example of the need for role players on a team. Championship teams always have them, the athletes who make sacrifices, who play well in the clutch, taking pressure off a squad. The recent travails of the Washington Redskins are a good example of a team who tries to stack itself with superstars, never taking into account the secondary players' role. Ditto the United States' Ryder Cup team, and the American men's basketball team. While the media portray role players as blue collar guys who just stumbled off a construction site to help the hometown team win a championship, role players are usually great athletes in their own right (see Jerome Bettis, in Super Bowl XL, and John Elway, arguably a role player in both his Super Bowl wins), who understand the importance of forfeiting personal glory.

The role of the role player has actually been quantified in a study, entitled "NBA Salaries: Role Players and Superstars,"by Marshall University's economist Jacqueline Agesa. The study, published in The Sport Journal, notes that there are "...greater returns to human capital accumulation for intermediate level, role players (occurring in the middle of the earnings distribution) relative to low-skill players and superstars." In other words, it's important to think about team chemistry when constructing a team.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Cauliflower Corner: Vic the Demon Vs. Chief Brave Spirit

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Journalism & Steroids

Sportswriters on the Steroids Scandal: "We Blew It." Editor & Publisher article here.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Friday Night Lights: It really was good

In today's New York Times: Lord, is “Friday Night Lights” good. In fact, if the season is anything like the pilot, this new drama about high school football could be great — and not just television great, but great in the way of a poem or painting, great in the way of art with a single obsessive creator who doesn’t have to consult with a committee and has months or years to go back and agonize over line breaks and the color red; it could belong in a league with art that doesn’t have to pause for commercials, or casually recap the post-commercial action, or sell viewers on the plot and characters in the first five minutes, or hew to a line-item budget, or answer to unions and studios, or avoid four-letter words and nudity...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sports for all?

More kids should have the opportunity to play sports but there is a growing elitism in prep athletics as shown in articles published today in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.

While the over-emphasis of athletics in impoverished areas has been covered diligently, most poignantly in Hoop Dreams, the NYTimes and the LATimes articles lightly touched upon one issue that has always intrigued me: well-off parents who put so much emphasis on sports, particularly when it comes to boys' athletic careers. It's pure puffery, and misguided energy, on the part of the parents. Often these kids are not very gifted--at all--but they are provided with coaches, trainers, camps, and pro-style equipment. The majority of these kids won't even play college sports, and yet their parents have created a reality distortion field around their supposed athletic careers. The real purpose of athletics is lost. Moreover, the motivation, and the love of sports, doesn't seem to come from within.

For health (physical and psychological) reasons, athletics should be a life-long pursuit for everyone but, for those who do participate (only 27 percent of kids in California achieve fitness standards), they peek, and retire, at age seventeen, never again picking up a bat or ball.