A great father's day present: your son driving 8 hours through the night to get you home to a hot shower, a real bed, and a loving, incredibly tolerant, wife/mother and over-the-top-happy-to-see-you Jack Russell Terrier.
An even better father's day present: a heart-felt card from one child and a cheerful text conversation with the other on "your" day.
The Best Father's Day present: spending an entire day sharing sunshine, huge rain drops, and great music from hip-hop only a 21 year-old should like (Kendrick Lamar), to hip-hop even a 55 year-old can like (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis), to a fantastic American band (The National), to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with two of your best friends. One of whom happens to be your brother, the other your son.
I admit it, Alex Rodriquez duped me.
At a time when others were perjuring themselves (Rafeal Palmerio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) or simply stonewalling (Mark McGwire), Rodriquez seemingly took the high road. He admitted that, while playing for the Texas Rangers, he had used PEDs. And I, for one, applauded him for his honesty.
Turns out, it was just a smokescreen.
Ryan Braun, on the other hand, I was on to all along.
Now Major League Baseball has a second chance to get it right with Braun and Rodriguez and all the other cheaters who were obtaining PEDs including testosterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), from the now-defunct Biogenesis of America clinic in Florida.
It has apparently cut a deal with Tony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis, to provide direct information linking many players to PEDs obtained from his "wellness clinic." MLB seemingly learned its lesson from the botched drug samples that were the basis of Braun's prior suspension and has been taking its time in investigating Biogenesis, its links to players and agents, and convincing Bosch (who previously denied that his clinic provided PEDs) that it is in his best interest, and perhaps only alternative, to name names.
One can only hope that they've gotten it right this time and that Bosch comes through with truthful information. And that the suspensions of Rodriguez and Braun and others who cheated will be severe. And that Braun and Rodriquez and others who will undoubtedly appeal whatever suspension are handed out will not benefit from some whacky arbitrator's imaginative decision.
Meanwhile, we wait with baited breath for the latest spin that Braun and his lawyers and agents, and Rodriguez and whoever is still clinging by their fingernails to his faded career and legacy, will put on the story.
Who put Bud Selig in charge of MLS?
There seem to be few explanations other than Selig-esque crass commercialism to justify the decision announced this week that the 20th MLS franchise has been awarded to New York City and its new owners, Manchester City and the New York Yankees. But apparently MLS Commissioner Don Garber is not only willing to take credit for the anointment of the newest club, he appears to actually thinks it's a good one.
Put together two of the most hated sports franchises in the universe and plop them down in a city that has shown a complete inability to support one, let alone two, professional soccer teams and you get what, exactly, that is appealing?
One wonders if the awkwardly named N.Y.C.F.C. was saddled with the moniker just to even things up with the New York Red Bulls and their uninspiring identification. "Go over-caffinated, sugary energy drinks!" doesn't lend itself to song or loyalty any more than the attempts by other MLS franchises to pander to Euro-snob U.S. fans by changing their names to sadly mimic storied franchises overseas ("FC Dallas", "Sporting Kansas City", "Real Salt Lake").
As smart as the decision was to add first Seattle, then Portland and Vancouver (with their devoted fan bases and true rivalries) to the fold in recent years, the selection of another New York City franchise appears even more ill-conceived than the attempt to create a rival for the L.A. Galaxy was by adding Chivas USA (whose attendance is abysmal so far in 2013).
Derbies aren't like sea-monkeys. They don't magically appear when you add water, or, in this case, a big pile of oil money and the Yankees' "mystique." That the Yankees were added as a minority owner in what appears to be an attempt to leverage Randy Levine's ability to strong-arm local politicians into handing over the use of public spaces to build nine figure playgrounds for rich owners makes the decision even more odious.
While the eight million or so denizens of The Big Apple will now have their choice of two soccer teams to ignore, those throughout much of the rest of the nation, many with soccer-rich traditions that pre-date both Garber and MLS, are left scratching their heads and wondering what they have to do to warrant consideration for franchises 21 and 22, which are apparently still in the works.
Prior to the NYC announcement, Garber had had identified Miami, Atlanta, Minneapolis, and Orlando as possibilities for additional expansion. Orlando actually makes some sense, based on the dearth of professional soccer at the highest level in the fourth most populous state in the country. Miami has already had its chance and it, like Atlanta, has consistently proven for decades its inability to sustain franchises other than pro football. Minneapolis? A nice place in July and August, but it will almost certainly need a turf field, which causes its own problems.
The wrong-headed approach to MLS expansion appears to be driven by identifying owner groups seeking a franchise and then either choosing somewhere to plop it, or to accede to their demands for a location, rather than on the fan-base of an area and its interest in soccer. St. Louis, with a long history of soccer enthusiasm and excellence in support of teams at the youth and college levels, is ignored not because it wouldn't support a franchise, but because the individual who has put himself at the forefront of its efforts to capture a club is likely not up to the task. And don't even get me started on poor Rochester, which carried the banner for soccer in New York State for years and isn't even close to being in the conversation anymore.
More and more, despite its bizarre and inscrutable rules regarding salaries, designated players, and player contracts, MLS is just another American professional sport. While the players are still expected to be grateful for whatever is thrown their way, when it comes to ownership and the location of franchises, money is the only thing that talks.
That Landon Donovan was not named by coach Jurgen Klinsmann to the latest U.S. Men's World Cup qualifying squad for five upcoming matches -- two friendlies and three hex matches -- is not particularly surprising. Donovan, after taking a three months sabbatical from soccer, is trying to round back into shape in the L.A. Galaxy line-up, with varying degrees of success.
After making the decision, Klinsmann said the right things about Donovan -- noting that he understood and respected his decision to take time away from the game -- but also made it clear that this team is his, not Donovan's, and that it is developing its own identity, one that does not include Donovan as its centerpiece, if at all. Donovan also made the appropriate "team player" comments after his exclusion -- understanding and respecting Klinsmann's decision, saying that he will continue to work hard to get in game shape and win his way back into the squad.
While many have speculated that Donovan will return to the team for this summer's Gold Cup (and Klinsmann has noted that is a possibility) that doesn't necessarily mean there will be a place for Donovan in the matches that matter leading up to and hopefully including the World Cup in Brazil, since the coach has also said that he will likely call in an entire "second team" to play in the tournament. And while Klinsmann has not ruled Donovan out of future World Cup qualifiers, his comment regarding Donovan's chances of returning to the squad: "maybe later on we'll definitely expect him back in the team" hardly sounds like a ringing endorsement.
One of the obstacles that both Donovan and Klinsmann face to Donovan's return is where will he play? Clint Dempsey has essentially replaced Donovan in the number 10 shirt of the withdrawn forward or attacking midfielder (albeit with a somewhat different style -- Dempsey is more likely to try to advance the ball from midfield himself, taking on defenders, while Donovan relied on speed, passing, and diagonal runs).
The team is desperate for out-and-out wingers and Donovan has played on both the left and right in the past. But he was never a true winger, preferring to return to the center of midfield and rarely took the ball to the corner to send in a cross. And one wonders if age is robbing him of the speed that was a hallmark of his game, as well as an essential tool for a winger who can stretch an opposing defense.
Qualifying matches have revealed a weakness in the Americans' dead-ball skills, something for which Donovan is known. But he's already missed two penalty kicks in the MLS season, so even that potential contribution is in doubt.
Regardless of whether Donovan regains a spot in the squad, it is clear that it will no longer be "his" team. That in itself indicates the passing of an era. Clearly one of Klinsmann's goals is to make the national team his, or (to give him the benefit of the doubt) the U.S. Soccer Federation's . It may be the most significant contribution he will make to moving the sport forward here.
"Ron: I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal.
Ron: People know me.
Veronica: Well, I'm very happy for you.
Ron: Um, I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books,
and my apartment smells of rich mahogany."
Far be it from me to suggest that Sunil Gulati would use the same terms to identify himself, and every indication is that he wouldn't, but the fact is he's kind of a big deal. That was emphasized late last month when he was elected by representatives of CONCACAF to serve on FIFA's Executive Committee.
Call me naive if you will, but I truly believe that Gulati has worked for the New England Revolution, MLS, the U.S. Soccer Federation, and now FIFA because he wants to advance the game in America. The unfortunate reality, however, is that he may be alone among the 25 members of the ExCom to put the game's interests above his own.
The tales of the excesses and arrogance of the men who run FIFA are legendary. Kickbacks, bribes, and private jets appear to be the rule, not the exception, when it comes to business as usual for the FIFA poo bahs. Some have suggested that the first question from most of Gulati's less-than-luminous predecessors upon their election was "just how many World Cup tickets do I get?"
I suspect that Gulati has bigger fish to fry. After the failed U.S. attempt to win the bid for the 2022 World Cup, Gulati didn't cry foul, as he was surely tempted to do, after many years of effort in the bid went down in flames (in particular, those from the gas wells in Qatar). Instead he shrugged his shoulders and vowed to carry on the fight for soccer in the States.
If Gulati sees his election as an attempt to remake FIFA from a fiefdom of stuffy old men in fancy suits into the actual international organizing body of the most popular sport in the world, he may have a few allies. Michel Platini, the President of UEFA (Europe's CONCACAF equivalent), is another influential member of the international soccer community who actually appears to have the best interests of the game at heart.
Can one or two or a few men change the mindset of what is essentially a huge multi-national corporation based on graft and backscratching? Time will tell. But that seems to be precisely what Gulati has in mind.
I admit to the certain shallowness that comes with being a sports lover. I've struggled with, and written in the past about, my unease with my fondness for sports and competition, its vague, sometimes intangible, sometimes downright offensive grip on me, our nation, and much of the world.
Still, the connection is there. And events like today's bombings at the Boston Marathon become somehow more personal, in some way more horrific, when tied to an athletic event.
I can recall certain events in my life, remember my horror, unease, repulsion at learning of or watching tragedy unfold. JFK, Martin Luther King, RFK, the Challenger, 9/11. Just initials or a single word or a simple number spark a clear recognition and a sharp pain.
I didn't know it at the time, but as I watched the twin towers tumble on a perfect September day in a conference room on the 15th floor of a building in Charleston, West Virginia, I was watching two of my friends die. Just normal guys, living normal lives, whose cruel fate led them to that place, one in each tower, on that unthinkable day.
As news that came to me today that folks I know who were in Boston were safe I was comforted, but it stirred the recollection that soon a different kind of news would be delivered to stunned parents, children, friends.
In some ways, it seems worse to me when terror and tragedy are tied to an athletic competition. The Munich Olympics. The Atlanta Olympics. Organized or random, political statement or senseless act, the idea that someone would intentionally take the life of or cause harm to those competing or watching an athletic event makes the act all the more cruel and heartless, aimed most specifically at those who are demonstrating the best of what we are capable of.
That is even more true of today's events. At first, because of when the explosions occurred, I thought it couldn't have been a planned attack, because it didn't occur when the leaders finished. The statement, I thought, would have been coordinated to cause the maximum damage to the "stars" of the event when they finished some three hours earlier.
But that wasn't the plan, nor the statement. The statement is simply that we're not safe. Anywhere, wherever we gather, even if for the simple joy of competing, even if only to prove that we can do something that we never thought we were capable of, we are not safe. And no amount of planning or protection or surveillance can make us completely safe again.
Our reaction to this sobering reality can take one of two paths: surrender, or keep competing. Give in, or fight back, through a demonstration of human spirit and resilience. Courage can be spectacularly demonstrated through sports, just by competing.
My daughter is supposed to run in a half-marathon in Boston next month. On her 25th birthday no less. My first thought was that I hope they cancel the race. My second was that if they don't, I hope she doesn't run.
But she has to run, if they hold the race. She has to represent that part of all of us who state by our actions that, understanding the risks, we will still gather, we will still compete, we will still run.
Run Kelsey. Run.
I am a connoisseur of sports nicknames. And while "March Madness" is mostly about basketball, for me it's at least a little about being exposed to one or two nicknames that I had never heard before.
There are 347 colleges playing NCAA Division I men's basketball this season. Most have boring nicknames like Tigers, Lions, and Bulldogs. And that's fine -- I like bulldogs. But the ones that pique my interest are the unusual ones. There's something special about a unique nickname and what it says about the school.
Nicknames originate from a variety of sources: school administrators, students, an actual vote, long-standing tradition. Many college nicknames were not chosen by the school or its students, but were first appended to teams by sportswriters. Back when scribes actually reported on athletes (or, this time of year, "cagers" which my brother assures me is a term that's still used), they had to come up with different ways to name to team. Still others were chosen by a particular coach.
So, while I bear no animosity toward any nickname (with the possible exception, as my friend Mary used to say, of a certain "worthless hairy nut") I much prefer the unique names, especially those with a history behind them (not the made-up, Johnny-come lately Banana Slugs or Cardinal). In no particular order, here are some of my favorite collegiate nicknames, along with a little background of the origin of the name.
Idaho Vandals. Okay, I lied. There is some order -- the Vandals are my all-time favorite nickname. There are lots of Spartans, Trojans, and Vikings, but for your hard-core pillagers and anarchists, I'll take a Vandal every time. Did the Vikings or the Spartans or the Trojans take down Gaul and Rome? I don't think so. An Idaho basketball coach from the 1910's first referred to his team's defense as so fierce that they "vandalized" their opponents; a writer for the school newspaper first referred to the team as the "Vandals."
Canisius Golden Griffins. The griffins of Greek mythology have the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. The nickname comes from a ship (believe it or not) that was built in Buffalo, NY and was the first ship to sail the Upper Great Lakes "Le Griffon."
Manhattan Jaspers. What is a Jasper you might ask? The correct question would actually be "Who was Jasper?" Brother Jasper was a Christian Brothers (F.S.C.) who was a BPOC in the late 19th century and introduced baseball to the school.
St. Louis Billikens. The Billiken is a goofy looking Buddha-like figure that was a charm doll created in the early 20th Century by a St. Louis illustrator and art teacher. It's not entirely clear how or why SLU adopted the Billiken nickname other than a supposed resemblance between the charm and a former football coach, John Bender, and its proximity to its creator.
Presbyterian Blue Hose. If they were called the "Blue Socks" it wouldn't seem all that unusual. But while at one time sportswriters apparently referred to them as either the Blue Stockings or the Blue Hose, the later won out, and an unusual name was born.
Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Another nickname coined by a sportswriter, trying to capture the spirit of a revived athletic program in the 1920's. Thank goodness we're still not "The Baptists." The Demon Deacon mascot is the perfect combination of a top-hatted Deacon with an impish attitude that represents the oxymoronic name.
Akron Zips. They were actually once the Zippers, named after a popular rubber shoe manufactured by BF Goodrich in Akron. With the advent of metal zipper that replace buttons in pants, Akron thought it wise to shorten the nickname to the Zips. Their mascot is Zippy the Kangaroo. Honest.
Southern Illinois Salukis. The only school chosen here that got its nickname via a campus-wide vote. SIU was known as "The Maroons" before they decided a better moniker was in order. While Salukis are cool dogs, the nickname makes even more sense when one understands that the Southern part of Illinois has long been referred to as "Egypt."
Richmond Spiders. Another nickname inspired by a person (in this case a baseball pitcher) and bestowed by a sportswriter. The only arachnid-named school to my knowledge, although I always thought that one of the all-girls' schools was missing out by not naming itself the "Black Widows."
Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. "Gamecocks" is just fine, but Chanticleers? Very cool. Chanticleer was a rooster who ruled the roost in one of Canterbury's Tales. When the school went looking for a nickname to replace "Trojans" it wanted to identify with South Carolina's Gamecocks (it was a two-year branch of USC at the time) but keep a separate identity. And so they settled on Chanticleer.
So those are some of my favorite unusual names. I'm hoping to find one or two more in this year's tournament. But in the meantime, is there one out there that you're particularly fond of that didn't make my list? If so, post a comment and let us know.
Almost a year ago I posted about soccer and sexual orientation, about the need for a modern-day Jackie Robinson to come forward and do for the LBGT athletes what Mr. Robinson did for African-Americans 65 years ago.
I didn't think twice about the post when it was written. I had made a conscious effort to avoid political and polarizing topics in my posts to that point, although I had toed the line once or twice before (particularly with regard to Rashard Mendenhall's tweets after Osama Bin Ladin's death). But I didn't think my post about the need for a champion for gay rights in sports would stir up any controversy.
Boy, was I wrong.
Many of my friends questioned the wisdom of that post. While every single one professed deep and abiding agreement with the position I had taken, they all expressed concerns that others who might read the post who didn't share my (and their) sensibilities might be offended.
Since that time, there have been some interesting developments regarding gay rights and sexual orientation in this country and in sports. It's hard to ignore the huge movement to legalize same sex marriage in many states. In soccer, Megan Rapinoe affirmatively stated that she is a lesbian (and gave a heartfelt speech at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center's Anniversary Gala), and in football, former NFL player Kwame Harris was essentially outed when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting his ex-boyfriend.
The closest yet to the call for a modern-day Robinson came today, though, when Robbie Rogers, a player with Leeds United, a former MLS player and U.S. Men's National Team member, announced that he is gay and is "stepping away" from soccer. Many of Rogers' former teammates posted messages of support on social media. And Rogers himself wrote of the great relief that he felt in finally admitting what he had so long hidden out of fear.
Is there a long way to go? Of course. For starters, the one disappointment in Rogers' announcement, is that, at a mere 25 years of age, he will not continue to play professional soccer, at least at this point, and serve as the same beacon that Robinson did for black athletes.
And one only need look to Russia and Eastern Europe to see the ugly side of soccer hate that still exists, whether directed toward black or homosexual players.
But we are, at the least, several steps closer to soccer's Robinson. And Rogers' announcement that he is stepping away, not retiring, gives some hope that he may return to the field, perhaps back in MLS.
And I can, perhaps, feel a little vindication for asking someone like him to step forward.
Post-script: Rogers' signing rights were acquired by the L.A. Galaxy from the Chicago Fire. Rogers will be in the squad for the Galaxy's May 26 match, becoming the first openly gay male to participate in a professional team sport in the U.S.
An important year awaits U.S. soccer, both on the men's and women's sides.
The women will face the year adjusting to a new coach as Tom Sermanni officially takes over from Pia Sundhage, now in charge of the national team in her native Sweden. While the team has understandably expressed excitement at the prospect of having a new coach with new ideas after five successful years under Sundhage (understandable because, well, if they're going to play, they're going to play for Sermanni), several key players are aging at positions that usually expose age (everywhere but keeper, really).
On the professional front of the women's game, the National Soccer League is set to begin play in April. The league announced this past week the allocation of National Team players from the U.S., Mexico, and Canada to the eight franchises, which include essentially are four teams from the former WPS (Boston, "Sky Blue", based in the New York City area, Western New York (Rochester), and Chicago) and four new clubs and cities (Seattle, Portland, Kansas City, and Washington D.C., which had a team for two years before it was moved to Florida).
The players were allocated with the help of a panel of experts, presumably to assure parity. Some effort appears to have been made to allocate American players close to home as well (for example, Hope Solo and Megan Rapinoe to Seattle, and Abby Wambach to Rochester).
While I don't profess to be familiar with any of the Mexican or many of the Canadian players, at first glance the Portland club, with Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, and Christine Sinclair from Canada look to have the makings of a powerful offense.
Presumably, as much interest will be focused on the business model of the new league as it tries to succeed where two of its sisters recently failed. Smaller, and in some instances shifting, venues and subsidies from the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican national teams may at least provide a tourniquet for the financial bleeding that is bound to occur with any fledgling professional league.
Meanwhile, on the men's side the National Team faces the final round of qualifying ("The Hex") for the 2014 World's Cup. Who will be in the starting 11 against Honduras on February 6 is anyone's guess, including, more likely than not, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's. Keeper Tim Howard is a lock. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are certainties, barring injury. But even where they will play is not clear. Bradley could play holding midfield, or as an offensive mid. Dempsey could play out wide in a 4-3-3, as a withdrawn forward, or up front (although he does not seem to be preferred by club or country as an out-and-out striker).
The big questions are who will make up what was an inconsistent defense and who will play up front and in what configuration. Is it time to replace Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra in back? Will Herculez Gomez, Jozy Altidore, Juan Agudelo, Eddie Johnson, or Chris Wondoloski play up front and alone or with a partner?
Whatever the line-up, the results have to be sufficient to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. There is no doubt that soccer's popularity is on the rise in the U.S. But in the women's game, it the interest has been limited, to this point, to the national team.
By the same token, the rise in popularity on the men's side has largely been concentrated on the European professional leagues, particularly the English Premier League. And while it's encouraging that there are more broadcasts of soccer than ever, and that results even occasionally creep into smaller newspapers, it doesn't do a lot to grow the professional game in the States.
In order for that to happen, soccer fans have to take more of an interest in MLS, either by attending or just by raising the t.v. ratings. And that's most likely to happen if the men's team, stocked primarily with MLS players, qualifies for its seventh consecutive World Cup. Failure to qualify will not only be a blow to the growth of the game here, but also to U.S. Soccer, which invested its future (not to mention a lot of cash) in the talismanic Klinsmann.
I may be a Pollyanna, but I think Klinsmann will figure it out and the U.S. will qualify either first or second in the group. And the star of the team will not be Dempsey or Altidore or Landon Donovan. It will be the former coach's son - Bradley.
Can we even begin to compare what we're learning about Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend to anything we've ever seen in sports?
Can we compare the spin that is already being put on the story to anything we've experienced before?
You bet. And not too long ago.
Much as Ohio State did with the Jim Tressel scandal a year and a half ago (yes, that guy who was run out of Columbus on a rail, and greeted with a standing ovation by the Buckeye faithful last November), Notre Dame officials had a choice in how to approach, or not approach as the case may be, the story regarding Te'o.
And, much like Gordon Gee and Gene Smith's party line, as delivered by AD Jack Swarbrick Notre Dame's decision was to get behind their beleaguered face of the university 110% (don't bother, I know you can't do anything more than 100%; drives me crazy too but think it fits here).
Two decisions had to be made. First, once they became aware of the fact that the heart-wrenching story regarding Te'o's relationship with Lennay Kekua, (whom he allegedly met at a Notre Dame-Stanford football game his freshman year, who he called his girlfriend, who met with him in Hawai'i, who he said (after her fake death) that he had talked to every night for four months and who had fallen to sleep with her over the phone many nights, who was first seriously injured in a car accident, then stricken with leukemia, who was supposedly released from the hospital to the congratulations of Te'o via Twitter and his father by phone, who then died the same day, or the next day, or two or three days after his grandmother died was completely false, what should they do?
Well, they did nothing. For three weeks. Until their hand was forced by the on-line publication of the article on Deadspin.com about the hoax, they did nothing. Other than conduct their own "independent" private investigation that apparently concluded (as Notre Dame did) that Te'o was the victim of an elaborate, cruel hoax, they did nothing. Not even contact "the authorities". Not that that's anything new for the Irish brass.
The second decision was what to say once the time was right. Or their hand was forced. And that determination was to paint Te'o as the victim and adopt his version of the events absolutely.
To be clear, I am unconvinced at this point that Te'o was in on the hoax, or that it was orchestrated by him to gain even more publicity and public sympathy. But it is unavoidably true that Te'o at best embellished the supposed facts about his relationship with this non-person.
And yet when, confronted at the press conference about the hoax, about Te'o's descriptions of his "meeting" Kekua, Swarbrick, alternatively displaying knowledgeable familiarity with social media ("Catfishing") and attempting to pass it off as something with which he had little acquaintance, stated that he was convinced that what Te'o meant by "meeting" Kekua was meeting her on-line ("like all the kids say these days" was the implied qualifier).
Trouble is, there's this description of Manti and Lennay's first meeting, in print, for all the world to see:
It never felt like a chance meeting, although it probably appeared that way from the outside looking in.
Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te'o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes.
They could have just as easily brushed past each other and into separate sunsets.
Where else could the information in those sentences have come from other than Te'o (or Kekua, who, in case I need to remind you, doesn't exist)? Or, even if we assume it was entirely the writer's fabrication (which, judging from those sentences, is probably better utilized in romance fiction), where was the statement from Te'o correcting the inaccuracy -- pointing out that he and Kekua had never actually met in person?
And that doesn't even begin to explain the supposed meetings in Hawai'i, the night-long phone calls, Te'o's father stating that Kekua's "death" led to the realization that Lennay could have been his daughter-in-law but that that chance was now gone (do you seriously say that about someone whom your son has never "met"?).
No, I'm sorry. The there are too many tales of real meetings to now slough off Te'o's references as social media jargon. They are what they are. And insisting that they are something they are not lends nothing to the story and further endangers Te'o's and the school's reputations. The Emperor has no clothes.
Whatever Te'o says in the next few days about his imaginary girlfriend, and perhaps more importantly what he says about what he did and didn't say, it had better be the truth. Because, sooner or later, the truth will be revealed.
Other than, perhaps, "Nick Saban's legacy", the most discussed topic emanating from the Alabama-Notre Dame NCAA football championship game does not directly involve a player or coach on either team. Instead, the focus has been on Brent Musburger and the girlfriend of AJ McCarron, Alabama's quarterback.
Most Irish fans are just fine with that.
The game had the smell of a rout from 'Bama's first drive on, and commentator and hall of fame blow-hard Brent Musburger wasted no time in confusingly alternating between trying to convince the viewers that it was still a game and handing Alabama the trophy.
Late in the first quarter -- far too early for the "filler" that television uses to try to keep the few still watching a blow-out engaged, the camera panned to the crowd and everything got more interesting and a whole lot creepier. In what had to have been a planned sequence, the camera fixed on a young lady in the crowd. Musburger, on cue, began to explain who she was, but apparently should have been shown a picture of her before the game, as what is left of his 74 year-old libido kicked in with a vengeance. With some "help" from sidekick Kirk Herbstreit, this is what ensued.
The dialogue in written form is every bit as interesting/amusing/odd.
"B: Now when you’re a quarterback at Alabama . . . you see that looovely lady there? She does go to Auburn, I will admit that, but she’s also Miss Alabama and that’s AJ McCarron’s girlfriend. Okay? And right there on the right is Dee Dee Bonner . . . that’s AJ’s Mom wow I’m tellin’ you quarterbacks . . .
K: Ha ha ha.
B: You get all the good lookin’ women ah that’s a . . . what a beautiful woman!
K: Wow! AJ’s doin’ some . . .
K: Some things right down in Tuscaloosa.
B: So if you’re a youngster at [sic] Alabama start gettin’ the football out and throw it around the backyard with Pop."
The day after the game, ESPN apologized for Musburger's remarks (although Musburger himself apparently has not) by saying that "the commentary in this instance went too far and Brent understands that." The young lady, Katherine Webb, (notably not identified by Musburger by name) has herself stated that she didn't take offense because "I think it's okay for a man to tell a woman that she's beautiful, no matter what age."
And, of course, pundits, experts, bloggers, and blog commentators have weighed in at both ends of the spectrum, from those who assert that Musburger's comments were "a major personal violation" and "evidence of a culture that views women as nothing more than chattel", to those who who viewed it as harmless banter and others who essentially accused Musburger's accusers of ageism by stating that the conversation wouldn't have been found to be offensive if Musburger were, say, Herbstreit's age.
To all of which I say: I'd almost rather listen to Musburger.
In the inevitable rush to be offended, and the equally inevitable rush to defend offenders, many forget their common sense. For me, the bottom line is: was this commentary something that would have been acceptable for Musburger to say, in-person, face-to-face with Ms. Webb?
Of course not.
Those who insist that Brent didn't say anything wrong and that our society has broken down because a man cannot compliment a woman on her appearance are taking little bits of Musburger's half-minute performance, ignoring or subtracting their tone, and making them the entirety.
Would it be okay for Brent to say to Ms. Webb during a conversation: "you look nice this evening"? Almost certainly.
What if he said: "you are a beautiful woman"? Maybe, although unlikely given their lack of familiarity.
How about: "you are a looovely lady!" No.
And, finally, what if Brent said directly to Ms. Webb: "you are a looovely lady! Whoa! I'm gonna tell my grandsons to forget about schoolwork and practice their spirals so they can snag a beauty like you some day!"? No. No. No.
Does the fact that Ms. Webb, 50 some years younger than Musburger, could be his grandchild make it creepier? Of course.
That is not to say those on the other side didn't go overboard too. Brent's musing weren't intended to further, nor were they caused or sanctioned by, some societal diminution of women. They were just the lame, off-the-cuff comments of a creep with a long history of inane remarks.
While Brent and Kirk yucking it up did have a "locker room" feel to it (that last "Whoa!" from Musburger gets me every time), they did not, as many have pointed out in their defense, discuss Ms. Webb's physical attributes or make any sexually suggestive comments.
All of which leads me to this -- a little advice regarding what I view as a few simple, common sense rules when communicating with or about your fellow human beings.
First, limit to whom and how often you comment on someone's appearance. Never talk about someone's appearance with someone else in a work setting. When you do discuss appearance directly with someone, be sincere and keep it generic. Remember the old saw: "If you can't say something nice ..."
Second, when saying, writing, or posting anything about someone, whether their personality, their appearance, their attire, or any other attribute, act as if you were saying it face-to-face and ask yourself if it would be appropriate in that context. If not, it's probably something that shouldn't be said.
Finally, sometimes it's okay to engage in humorous banter as long as it's not offensive. But choose topics, and know the person well enough, to be sure that they will not be put off.
For example, I just can't resist posting this picture again -- its ridiculousness is the cherry on top of the Musburger cake. While I don't know Brent, I am positive that he thought it was a cool picture when it was taken.
And, yes, I would be fine with telling him that to his face.
1. Little Talks by Of Monsters and Men.
"There's an old voice in my head that's holding me back.
Well tell her that I miss our little talks.
Soon it will be over and buried with our past.
We used to play outside when we were young, and full of life, and full of love."
As with 2011's Number 1, Little Talks is one of the first "new" songs I heard in 2012, and it remained my favorite all year. Horns, interplay between male and female voices, and a bunch of folks yelling "Hey!" - what's not to like?
2. It's Time by Imagine Dragons.
"So this is what you meant.
When you said that you were spent.
And now it's time to build from the bottom of the pit
Right to the top.
Don't hold back."
The lyrics seemed especially fitting on New Years' Eve, facing an abyss and the promise of a new year at the same time.
3. Some Nights by fun..
"But I still wake up; I still see your ghost.
Oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for most;
Oh, what do I stand for? What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don't know. Anymore."
Love the harmonies, but love the rat-a-tat-tat snare drum even more.
4. Trojans by Atlas Genius.
"Take it off; take it in.
Take off all the thoughts of what we've been.
Take a look; hesitate.
Take a picture you could never recreate."
A song about love lost, but not forgotten.
5. Ho Hey by The Lumineers.
"So show me family.
All the blood that I will bleed.
I don't know where I belong.
I don't know where I went wrong.
But I can write a song . . ."
Heard it a lot. Still not tired of it.
6. Money Saves by Delta Spirit.
"They all said what you had, you let it go.
Like managing a hurricane, let it blow.
With your money save, your money save.
Well I alone yes I alone with you."
Not very fond of the new album as a whole, but think this song is great. The video is just a teaser, not the whole song.
7. The Myth of Youth by Geographer.
"Everything was simpler then.
Nothing gained, no one losing.
We held the future in our hands.
Now we've got nothing but the present."
A lovely song, not of love lost, as much as love just slipping away. Not an authorized video, but it is on YouTube.
8. Gimme Twice by The Royal Concept.
"Oh one thing that's in mind is that The Strokes's in town;
You'd rather sip through all your fancy wine
Then come alive once more.
Oh but this time I decide."
They do sound a little like The Strokes, but more like another previous list-topping group. Can you guess who?
9. Shackled and Drawn by Bruce Springsteen.
"Gambling man rolls the dice, working man pays the bills.
Still fat and easy up on bankers' hill.
Up on bankers' hill the party's goin' strong.
Down here below we're shackled and drawn."
My favorite song from The Boss's excellent latest album. Another video from a concertgoer.
10. East Harlem by Beirut.
"Sound is the color I know, oh,
Sound is what keeps me looking (for your eyes).
And the sound of your breath in the door,
And, oh, the sound will bring me home (again)."
Is that a flugelhorn I hear?
The list continues.
11. Beggar in the Morning by The Barr Brothers.
"I take my medicine on my knee.
Twice a day, but lately three.
Keeps the devil from my door.
And it makes me rich and it makes me poor."
This is kind of a creepy video. You will either love it or hate it.
12. Get Burned by Sleeper Agent.
"I'm not cold, I'm just a shakin',
And a little of your love keeps me a bakin'.
I'ma get burned (get burned)
I'ma get burned, burned, burned, oh."
A silly but highly infectious song.
13. I Will Wait by Mumford & Sons.
"So break my step.
Well, you forgave,
And I won't forget."
This video so makes me regret not seeing more of them at Bonnaroo.
14. State Hospital by Frightened Rabbit.
"And in the limp three years of board schooling,
she's accustomed to hearing that she could never run far.
A slipped disc in the spine of community;
A bloody curse word made pedestrian verse."
A bit of a departure for FR as they look at things from the woman's point of view in this song. Their new album out in February is called "Pedestrian Verse."
15. Lost in My Mind by The Head and The Heart.
"How's that bricklayin' comin'?
How's your engine runnin'?
Is that bridge getting built?
Are your hands getting filled?"
Another great song from their self-titled album (two others were on last year's list).
16. Went Away by The Maccabees.
"So hold me close, don't let me go.
I need you so.
Tell me something I don't know.
That I need to know."
Great guitar work in this song.
17. On Top of the World by Imagine Dragons.
"I've tried to cut these corners.
Tried to take the easy way out.
I kept on falling short of something.
I coulda gave up then,
but then again I couldn't have 'cause
I've traveled all this way for something."
The only artist with two songs on this year's list, this song has a bouncy island beat. The next one does not.
18. Carried Away by Passion Pit.
"Listen. I don't really know you.
And I don't think I want to.
But I think I can fake it if you can."
My favorite song on their new album.
19. Deconstruction by Fanfarlo.
"So come on, let's dissect it.
Let's cut it up 'til it's gone.
Let's break it up into pieces,
and throw away what we don't understand."
Sometimes Fanfarlo's lyrics are hard to understand, but figuring them out is half the fun.
20. Same Love by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
"No law is gonna change us;
We have to change us.
Whatever god we believe in,
We come from the same on.
Strip away the fear,
Underneath it's all the same love.
About time that we raised up."
The first appearance of rap in the countdown, this is definitely not your standard rap song, with its theme of inclusiveness (and pro-same-sex marriage).
Here is the start to my list of favorite songs from 2012. As with last year's posts, and my Facebook posts from 2009-2010, these are songs released either in this year or the past year. A few entries, and a few more artists, appear on some real music critics' lists for 2012, but I assure you that is merely coincidence.
21. Everybody Talks by Neon Trees.
"Hey honey you could be my drug.
You could be my new prescription.
Too much could be an overdose;
All this trash talk make me itchin'."
Close to a guilty pleasure. But a pleasure it is.
22. Gold on the Ceiling by The Black Keys.
"Clouds covered love's barbed-wire snare.
Strung up, strung out, I just can't go without."
A little blues, a little straight-up rock 'n roll (T-Rex, perhaps?).
23. Grand Optimist by City & Colour.
"I fear I'm dying. From complications.
Complications, due to things that I've left undone.
That all my debts will be left unpaid,
feel like a cripple without a cane.
And a jack of all trades
who's a master of none."
I could see that it would suck, growing up a pessimist with an optimistic dad.
24. North Side Gal by J.D. McPherson.
"I got some good talk, but not enough game.
Wooing the sweet thing; oh ain't it a shame.
Every time I try.
Crazy about a north side gal."
The juke joint is rockin'.
24. JERK! by Stephie Coplan and The Pedestrians.
"Cut the small talk, cut to the chase, cut the cord, cut the crap.
Set the mood, set the tone, set the vibe, set the beat, set the trap.
Appear unimpressed with the dress that I bought today just for this.
Think of someone else while you're giving me that half-hearted post-sex kiss."
Stephie sent me a personal note enclosing her cd that I ordered from the band's website. If that doesn't get you on my list, nothing will.
26. Love Interruption by Jack White.
"I want love to
forget that you offended me;
Or how you have defended me
when everybody tore me down.
Yeah and I want love to
change my friends to enemies;
change my friends to enemies,
and show me how it's all my fault."
A little dark, even by Mr. White's standards. Love the video -- makes the lyrics seem plaintive rather than angry.
27. Bloody Mary (Nerve Endings) by Silversun Pickups.
"See you laughing in a picture;
but I know it's out of place.
You barely cried.
But you made it out alive."
A perennial list resident. I have no idea what the "artsy" parts of the video symbolize.
28. Hold On by Alabama Shakes.
"So, bless my heart. And bless my mind.
Got so much to do. I ain't got much time.
So, must be someone up above sayin':
C'mon girl. You got to get back up!"
I would love to see them live.
29. Songs for Teenagers by Fake Problems.
"Last night is all a blur to me.
I don't remember anything.
But at vaguely recall
Sounds like a happy song. Until you listen to the lyrics.
30. Country Roads by Mike Doughty.
"Almost heaven, West Virginia.
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.
Life is old there, older than the trees.
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze."
One of my favorite artists, singing about my favorite state.
If you follow women's soccer, or the tabloids, you've probably heard about Hope Solo's drunken bachelorette/bachelor party/melee, followed by her appearance at a hearing on domestic battery charges that she brought against her fiancee (now husband), a former NFL player with an impressive history of run-ins with the law including DUI, possession with intent to distribute, and, most disturbingly, sexual assault.
Various folks have weighed in on what should or should not be off limits with regard to Solo and what appear to be some questionable life choices (not that that should be particularly shocking given her public declarations in the past). But my take is a little different. It's about the choices that coaches and teams are sometimes forced to make.
Coaches are fond of saying that they have one set of rules that applies to all players. But they know, and the players know, that that's not always the case.
At any level, coaches have to make adjustments and even exceptions for exceptional players. And they have to depend on the players to understand that it's for the good of the team that they do so, even if the players that exceptions are made for aren't "team players."
After watching the U.S. Women's team in the Olympics, reading Solo's controversial comments regarding Brandi Chastain's commentary and the lack of public support that she received for those comments from her teammates and coaches, and then watch the last two friendlies that the team played against the Republic of Ireland, I wonder how much tongue biting and eye rolling goes on inside the team when Solo opens her mouth. Because two things are clear: first, Solo, true to her name, is not a team player; and, second, the team really, really needs her.
Admittedly, it may not be fair to evaluate based on two halves of two friendlies, but Solo's backup, Nicole Barnhart, looked very shaky in her two appearances. While her decision-making would undoubtedly benefit from more game time, she looked indecisive on crosses and balls in the box.
Keepers are like left-handed pitchers in baseball -- they're often viewed as the odd-balls, marching to the beat of a different drummer (no doubt in part because they are the only players allowed to use their hands). But that doesn't mean they can't or don't have to be good teammates.
It will be interesting to see how the new head coach of the National Team, Tom Sermanni, deals with Solo. Perhaps, like Pia Sundhage before him, he will decide that regardless of the distractions, it's best for the team that he tolerate them as best as he and the team can. But we should also probably hope (pun intended) that somewhere in the program a replacement is being groomed.
Amidst the orgy of turkey, Black Friday, and college football this past week you may have missed the announcement that, for the third time in the past 12 years, a women's professional soccer league will begin play in the U.S. this coming spring.
The WUSA was formed in the wake of the U.S. Women's National Team's triumph in the 1999 World Cup here in the U.S. Much as the formation of MLS following the men's World Cup in the States in 1994, the notion was that it was the perfect time to start a women's league with all the momentum that the sport had gained after the climatic final game, won by Brandi Chastain's famous pk.
That league folded after just three years though, drowning in debt caused, at least in part, by the signing of big name players from abroad and (based on the attendance and limited television exposure and dollars) high salaries for the players. The WUSA tried to hang on through the next year, holding a few "exhibition" matches which were essentially all-star games, but finally gave up the ghost.
Women's Professional Soccer jumped into the void for another three years, but it seemed even more doomed from the start. Feuding (and seemingly imbalanced), owners, lackluster crowds, and frankly dull play led to another three seasons, but even the most hard core fan would be hard-pressed to name more than one team, let alone more than one champion. The WPS played in 2009-2011, but in January of this year announced a hiatus and eventually disbanded.
The success of the U.S. Women's National Team this summer in London, however, led to renewed talk of another women's professional league. While the WPS had tried to associate with MLS and thus reduce facilities costs, the effort never seemed to take hold outside of, perhaps, Philadelphia. The announcement of the new league, however, came not from potential owners but from Sunil Gulati, the President of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
Gulati, whose day job is a senior lecturer in economics at Columbia, believes he has finally developed a "sustainable" economic model for the women's professional game in the States. The as-yet-unnamed league will work in cooperation with the U.S., Canadian, and Mexican Soccer Federations in paying the salaries of many of the players in the league. U.S. Soccer will also finance the administrative costs of the league, presumably while trying to ensure that costs are held in some close approximation to the revenues generated by attendance, television rights, and collateral income.
The new league will also likely follow more closely the MLS model by limiting, at least initially, the number of foreign players allocated to each club ("foreign" meaning in this context non-American, Canadian, or Mexican) and to begin play in smaller venues to enhance fan participation and camaraderie.
While it remains to be seen whether a women's professional league is sustainable in the U.S., Gulati's plan seems to have the kernels of the model that could work. But what else would you expect from an Economics professor who has been called "the single most important person in the development of soccer in this country"?
Sometime back I mentioned in a post that one of my all-time favorite books about soccer is The Ball is Round. Unfortunately though, for many who play the game, the ball isn't always round. Or even much of a ball.
An article in The New York Times (which I first saw linked on Rachel Maddow's Facebook page) last week highlights an obvious fact: kids in the poorest countries not only do not play with balls that are round, they often play with balls that are not even balls but rather rough spheres fashioned from trash or debris. Efforts by relief organizations to provide them with "real" soccer balls often fail because the balls are quickly torn or otherwise deflated by the rocky conditions on which the children play their games.
Cue Tim Jahnigen and his quest to bring durable soccer balls to kids in the poorest countries in the world. The article recounts Jahnigen seeing a documentary about children in Darfur who found joy in playing soccer, even though the balls were made out of garbage and string.
Something of a renaissance man, Jahnigen has held a variety of jobs and engaged in a number of pursuits before turning his efforts to inventing an indestructible ball. You don't need me to recount the entire Times article (linked in the second paragraph) but it's an interesting story that involves, among other things, Crocs and Sting.
The balls are expensive, at least in part because it costs so much to ship them where they are needed (they are not only indestructible, they're also not deflatable). Still, if you're looking to make a charitable donation this holiday season, why not give a kid somewhere a ball that will always be there for him or her? You can buy a ball, or make a donation, here.
Lest it be completely lost on us, there is also a certain beauty to make-shift balls. As I was writing this post, my friend Michael sent me a link to this series of pictures by Jessica Hilltout that she has taken of cobbled together balls.
These balls, or at least their photographs, certainly are artful. But those who play with them I'm sure would rather play with one that rolls true and stays round.
What I kind of remember about 1968:
The USS Pueblo.
The Chicago Democratic Convention.
What I remember about 1968:
Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.
What happened in 1968 that is still so clear it's like it happened yesterday:
Bobby Kennedy's assassination.
The World Series.
It's hard to convey to anyone born decades later than me how crazy it was to be a 10-year-old in 1968. Everything seemed relatively safe in my sleepy little Michigan town. Until "everything" started to explode. Dr. King, the Olympics, the riots, the election, the Chicago cops. Who could you trust? Where was it safe?
I watched most of the 1968 World Series at school. Not on my tablet. Not on my i-phone. On a grainy black and white t.v. in my school cafeteria. I hung with every pitch and at-bat, as did my classmates, Detroit, and most of the Mitten State.
The Tigers helped everyone forget, for a while anyway, the turmoil that was 1968. It brought together a city and a state torn apart by race, by inequality, by war. And it allowed all of us, for at least seven magical games, to think about something simple - competition. And to collectively succeed at something when success at anything seemed impossible.
Baseball was my sport as a kid. It was the only sport I played as an organized competition and the one I followed more than any other as a fan. I still have my baseball card collection. I can still name the starting nine of the Tigers that year (from memory, without cheating: c Bill Freehan; 1b Norm Cash; 2b Dick McAuliffe; 3b Don Wert; ss Ray Oyler; lf Willie Horton; cf Mickey Stanley; rf Al Kaline/Jim Northrup; pinch-hitter extraordinaire Gates Brown). I remember Denny McLain's 31 wins, and the pitching of Mickey Lolich, and Earl Wilson, and Joe Sparma, and John Hiller.
The Tigers romped through the American League that season, winning the pennant by 12 games. But ahead lay the St. Louis Cardinals and their pitching monster, Bob Gibson. The Tigers went down in the Series 3-1 at a time when only two teams had ever come back from such a deficit to win a seven game series. Gibson was unhittable in Games One and Four, and yet, somehow, a self-described pot bellied, big eared unheralded guy named Mickey stopped him and the Cards in Game Seven to win the Series.
All of this seemed relevant this evening, as I watched the Tigers clinch their 11th American League crown and await their National League opponent, which appears likely, for the fourth time, to be the St. Louis Cardinals. The "Gashouse Gang" Cardinals beat the Bengals in 1934, the Tigers won in '68, and the Cardinals were best again in 2006. It seems time to me to even that scoreline.
The ultimate twist of fate? While this ten year-old was watching the series in his little town in Michigan, rooting for the Tigers, there was a nine year-old girl watching in a small town outside of St. Louis, rooting just as hard for the Cardinals. We have been married now for 30 years. A lesson, perhaps, that sports can divide as well as unite.
The murmuring has become a cacophony. The trickle a tidal wave. The silent suffering a public crisis.
What was once a hidden secret, shrouded by machismo and shame, is now public. Former NFL players are dying, or sickened, because they played the game they loved.
Most weren't injured all at once. Not in a Darryl Stingley-Jack Tatum moment. But a little at a time. Tackle-by-tackle. Collision-by-collision.
The NFL is trying to address the problem. Banning hits on defenseless players. Prohibiting helmet-to-helmet contact. Commissioner Roger Goodell's recent public relations nightmare, the Saints' "bountygate" fiasco, did not occur because the NFL is somehow suddenly opposed to the violent collisions that were its hallmark. The NFL is worried about its players. And worried about getting sued.
Alex Karras, a Lion of my youth, a Lion of life, died last week. He suffered from kidney failure. But more tragically, he suffered from dementia caused, he contended, by repeated concussions incurred during the Golden Age of football in the 1950's and 1960's.
"The Mad Duck" was not the archetypal dumb jock. Far from it. He clashed with coaches he thought tyrannical, acted, was a sportscaster, and a businessman. He was also one of the greatest defensive linemen in the history of the NFL.
But as Karras' health failed, he became part of a group of former NFL players who sued the league early this year, claiming a variety of health problems as a result of head injuries caused by the NFL's alleged failure to provide safe playing conditions.
I don't know enough about the medicine to know if Karras and his fellow plaintiffs have a legitimate case. I tend to think that the science and medicine regarding concussions and their long-term effect is recent and still evolving. And as a result, it may be difficult for the former players to prove that the NFL intentionally submitted them to unsafe conditions and repeated injury.
One thing I'm relatively certain of, however, is that the NFL's recent emphasis on avoiding injury, sitting players with concussions until medical clearance, and the suspension and fining of players who engage in what used to be acceptable conduct on the field (leading with the helmet, spearing, dumping quarterbacks and running backs on their heads after forward progress is stopped) is the result of concerns for player safety, and also for potential liability.
Roger Goodell is the CEO of a multi-billion dollar industry and understands that his job is to maximize and protect the owners' product and their wealth. While Karras and his co-plaintiffs may or may not pose a threat to that wealth, the current generation of players, 20 or 30 years down the road, almost certainly does given what we now know about concussions and their long term effect on the brain.
Every time some announcer or pundit or former player or even current player decries the "softening" of the game, they are longing for a day when life was simpler, when we knew not what we asked of the players. And they ignore both the science and the economic might of what professional football is today.
All of this is, of course, too late for The Mad Duck and his generation. But if the changes, however motivated, allow us to bask a little longer in the reflected light of today's stars in the future, or to delight in the multi-facetedness of a player who we just saw as a brute, then that makes us all a little richer. And a little less guilty for watching on Sunday afternoons.
After attending all three days of competitive play at the Ryder Cup, I too got caught up in the discussions in the aftermath of the Meltdown at Medinah.
"Who should we blame?" all the commentators asked. Various candidates were offered (Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Tiger Woods, and Captain Davis Love chief among them). "Did we lose it or they win it?" was a conversation I engaged in as well. After discussing some of the above candidates, we decided it was a little of both -- some of our guys lost matches they could or should have won, some of their guys (chief among them Justin Rose) won matches they had every reason to believe they had already lost.
As the sting has faded though, I've been thinking more about our need (and by "our" I mean Mankind, Humankind, all us people, etc., not just Americans and not just the Ryder Cup) to attach blame and find a scapegoat. Particularly interesting, or troubling, is the definition above: "one that is made to bear the blame of others."
I understand that with multiple 24-hour sports, news, and golf television and radio it is inevitable that in the endless effort to fill air time every result and action will be overanalyzed. But I can't help but think that at least part of why we do so, or even listen while others do, is to find someone to "bear our blame." Not the blame of losing an exhibition golf match (anymore than our average counterpart in Europe can take credit for the victory), but for our collective discontent and feeling that we're no longer the masters of our domain.
So at least as far as this Ryder Cup goes, I'm not looking for a scapegoat, not placing blame. The Euros won, and did so with passion and flair. Let's just leave it at that.
Random observations from three days at Medinah:
"USA! USA! USA!" is insipid. C'mon people we can do better. I suggest that for the next Ryder Cup on U.S. soil (or even Gleneagles in 2014 for that matter) we enlist Sam's Army or the American Outlaws (which are U.S. Soccer supporter groups, not biker gangs) to instruct all American fans in some proper songs.
One of the five coolest moments in my sports spectating life was watching and listening as Ian Poulter and Bubba Watson got the fans amped up on the first tee on Saturday afternoon, then hit while they were still in a frenzy. If you didn't see it, you have to watch.
Not sure why, but golfers on the whole strike me as the most universally likable athletes.
Except for Sergio Garcia, who I've never really liked.
Pia Sundhage's final match as the U.S. Women's soccer coach had all the right elements to encapsulate her nearly five years in charge. An early deficit, some dodgy defending, lots of goals, and in the end, a victory as the Americans beat Australia 6-2.
It's easy to forget that when Sundhage took over the team it was in complete disarray. The women had finished third in the World Cup in 2007, a result with which most countries (Canada comes to mind) would be ecstatic, but which was disappointing for the Americans in part because it constituted the second straight World Cup that they had failed to win, but mostly because of the way it had happened.
Then-coach Greg Ryan benched keeper Hope Solo in favor of long-time starter Brianna Scurry for the semi-final match against Brazil, which the U.S. promptly and embarrassingly lost 4-0. After the game, Solo publicly blasted Ryan for the decision (where have we heard that since?), splitting the team into two camps.
While the team regrouped to defeat Norway in the consolation game, the damage had been done. Ryan was dismissed and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati eventually named Sundhage, the first non-American to hold the job, in his place.
Nine months later, the U.S. Women won the Gold Medal at the Beijing Olympics. Sundhage found a winning formula, based primarily on Abby Wambach and Solo, and stuck with it.
While the play wasn't always pretty, and there were some rough stretches (particularly during World Cup qualifying, when the U.S. lost to Mexico and had to defeat Italy in home-and-home matches to squeak into the Finals) the team began to play exciting, attractive soccer. Sure, there were more bumps along the way - especially the World Cup Final against Japan when the Americans twice surrendered leads and their slow defenders (yes, Hope, slow defenders) were exposed.
But two matches in particular, the World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil in 2011 and the Olympic semifinal against Canada this summer, were two of the most compelling soccer matches, men's or women's, I've ever watched. And Sundhage should also be credited for bringing youth into the team, Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan, and Sydney Leroux being the best examples of quality players who blossomed under Sundhage's leadership.
Perhaps most importantly, Sundhage clearly enjoys coaching and imparts that joy to her players. Undoubtedly she worked them hard. But she has a whimsical side that occasionally causes her to dance or break into song.
Whoever replaces Sundhage will have big shoes to fill, and will inherit a team with high expectations for the next World Cup, to be held in Canada in 2015. He or she may well bring the Cup back across the border. But I doubt that whoever it is will do so with as much panache as Sundhage brought to our team.
Watching the United States' men's national team hit a cross bar and two posts during the first half of its match against Jamaica, I started to hear a voice. My own, to be precise.
"Maybe this is going to be one of 'those games'," the voice said.
I can't remember if I've written this before, but I've said it many times, and believe it's true: soccer is the one sport among all in which a clearly dominant team can play well and still lose, or at least not win.
Maybe it's the size of the playing field, or the number of players, that allows a true underdog, in ability and physical skill, to have "a shot" more than other sport. I tend to think it's because of the nature of the game and its running clock.
In basketball, a vastly outgunned team used to be able to stall the game and at least stay close, if not have the opportunity to pull a huge upset. With the advent of shot clocks at the college and pro levels, that ability no longer exists. Given the relative lack of merit in watching a 12-10 basketball game, not many would argue with the rule, although it does limit an underdog's ability to slow the game.
In American football, the constant stoppage of play means that a certain number of plays, and therefore scoring opportunities, are guaranteed.
This isn't to say that "upsets" don't happen in basketball or football. They clearly do, and the disinterested observer almost always roots for them.
But I'm not talking about upsets here. What can happen only in soccer, I believe, on more than a very rare occasion, is when one team is clearly outplayed on the field during a contest, and still wins, or at least doesn't lose. That is one of the reasons that I believe that soccer is the most compelling of all sports.
In my time as a coach, I was on both ends of results in which the obviously better team did not win. I can still remember my son's travel team dominating a match in the West Virginia Open Cup, only to lose on a fluke goal that bounced over our keeper's head. But I can also remember several victories in which we were outmanned and outplayed, but found a way to win.
Our high school team lost at least two games in my tenure as assistant and head coach in which we dominated possession, but couldn't push that ball across the line or under the bar. The worst was in sectional play, against our biggest rival, in which we controlled the game, lost our best midfielder, kept fighting, endured a lightning delay, and lost because the other team converted its only real chance to score (at least, that's the way I remember it).
But I also remember the Regional Final in 2009, when we outplayed our AA-A rival, but headed into overtime, then the second overtime, then the third, then the fourth, tied at 0-0. And I can remember, as clear as if it happened last night, our graceful forward scoring in the last minute of the fourth sudden death overtime to send us all into a frenzy.
It's that build-up, that anticipation, that frustration, that makes soccer great.
And the U.S.? It scored in the 55th minute on a free kick and made its path to the final round of World Cup qualifying much safer. And those crossbars and posts and great saves by the keeper made it all the sweeter.
Sometimes, the best team does win.
But that voice in my head didn't stop whispering until the final whistle blew.
I have intended for a while to post about Title IX, which recently turned 40 years old. I wasn't sure what I would post, though, until the effect of this very American law was made clear by the most international of sporting events, the Olympics.
I am certain that the legislators that passed Title IX, and the athletic directors and universities that it impacted, did not appreciate the import of that law when it was enacted. The law simply provides: "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."
As we now know, that simple law, through its application (or imposition as the case may be) upon universities that receive federal assistance led to an explosion of women's sports in the U.S.
The recent Olympics and an excellent article in the Globe and Mail helped me realize that Title IX's impact has effected sports, and equality, well beyond our borders. Yes, the U.S. women's soccer team won its third straight gold medal at the London Games. And our women's basketball players, gymnasts, track athletes, and even markswomen again shone. But the fact that they did so against increasingly global, and talented, opposition speaks to the impact that the law has had over most of the world.
It was bound to happen, I suppose: an increase in attention to, and spending on, women's collegiate athletics in the United States increased participation and proficiency as more and better female athletes were identified and received top-flight training and coaching. What was less obvious was that this would eventually have a global effect as other nations, intent on keeping pace in the competitive, nationalistic arena of international sports (seems like an oxymoron, doesn't it?), trained and identified female athletes or risked falling hopelessly behind.
Title IX's positive influence on women's athletics, though, has been local as well as global. At the start of every soccer season, when talking to parents about the upcoming season I would remind them that high school sports are about success. We were well past the stage where every player received a participation trophy; we were going to play and coach every match to win. That would mean that some players were not going to play much, if at all, in close contests.
I would acknowledge that the players and parents made a tremendous sacrifice to be a part of our team, in time at practice and time away from studies or home, and that each player and parent had to decide whether that cost was worth the benefit. If the benefit was viewed solely as playing time, then surely it would not be worth it for some.
But I also would always mention that the players on our team were offered an opportunity that simply wasn't present when I or most of the players' parents were in high school. And that was the value of simply being a team member. Team sports teach common effort, subservience of individual desires for the good of the whole, and build camaraderie far beyond the playing field in ways that simply cannot be learned in the class room, or even in individual sports.
I firmly believe that while we now see the results of Title IX in the Olympics and on fields of play, we are also increasingly seeing the benefit to society as a whole as women assume, and prove their ability to perform, jobs at the highest level in business, in government, and in coaching. Perhaps most importantly, sports teach women that it's okay to be who they are, that they are valued and equal members of a team and of society in every setting. And they help us to cast aside old stereotypes of what woman can and cannot, or should and should not, do.
As Mary Jo Kane, a professor of sport sociology at the University of Minnesota, who was quoted extensively in the Globe article, simply and succinctly noted regarding our current crop of female athletes: "They talk," Kane said, "about watching the Olympics as little girls and remember saying, 'I want to do that too.' And they have. They are no longer tokens or outliers or tomboys."
An impressive legacy for a 37 word statute, and a reminder that although change seems to occur maddeningly slowly at times, we continue to move toward equality on many fronts.
By now I assume you know that this Jerry Sandusky-Joe Paterno-Penn State thing has gotten stuck in my craw.
As a former coach, I just can't get past the selfish arrogance of Joe Paterno and Penn State's administration in covering up Sandusky's crimes. If there was any doubt that Paterno knew of Sandusky's perversions and did little or nothing to stop them, those doubts ended with last week's publication of Louis Freeh's report commissioned by the school's Board of Trustees.
Not only did Paterno know, but Freeh concluded, he actively participated in efforts to hide Sandusky's crimes and predilictions from authorities and the public. A series of emails exchanged between school President Graham Spainer, Vice President Gary Schultz, and Athletic Director Tim Curley makes it clear that the three intended to call child protective services regarding Sandusky until Curley had a conversation with Paterno after which Curley wrote to the others that he wasn't "comfortable" proceeding with the report to authorities. Not only did Paterno know, but he was the ringleader in the cover-up.
Now the talk is whether Penn State should take down a statue of Paterno that is outside of Beaver Stadium. But the statue is just a symbol of the program under Paterno's reign. The more important object that requires dismantling is the football program itself.
The other discussion taking place is whether the NCAA should punish Penn State for irregularities resulting from the Sandusky mess. Some think the issue is outside of the scope of what the NCAA investigates and punishes schools for - usually academic or recruiting violations. But the NCAA also punishes schools for "lack of institutional control". In fact, it is for that reason that it shut down the Southern Methodist football program in the 1980's.
How can institutional control be any more lacking than when the chief administrators and football coach/icon make the conscious decision to protect a pedophile and expose dozens of young boys to his predatory ways, all for the sake of preserving the reputation of their supposedly pristine program? How can institutional control be any more absent than when school employees, from part-time janitors to the Athletic Director, will not report a heinous crime like rape for fear of incurring the wrath of the head football coach?
The NCAA needs to send a message with its investigation and punishment of Penn State. Not so much to that school, which seems (too late) to have gotten the message (with the exception of Paterno's family, which continues to rely on an alternative history yet to be constructed in insisting that it will somehow restore JoePa's good name). Rather, the message needs to be sent to all the other NCAA Bowl Championship Series (I think that's what it's called now) administrators and coaches to emphasize that no one is above the law, no matter how revered they are or how much money they bring into the institution.
I saw an interview of former Florida State head football coach Bobby Bowden in which Bowden stated that he thought the NCAA shouldn't punish the Penn State program now. His reasoning was that because the bad actors are now gone sanctions would only punish student-athletes and coaches who were not at the school when Sandusky's and Paterno's acts and omissions occurred.
That specious argument could apply equally well to any violations that occur under a former head coach who is given the boot or leaves before he is caught (Butch Davis at UNC, Rich Rodriguez at WVU come quickly to mind). The whole point about "institutional control" is to not allow football coaches to become autonomous rulers of their little fiefdoms, answering to no one else.
Others complain that Penn State football is an integral part of school life and to take it away will damage to the school when it needs "healing". Again, isn't that the point? Shouldn't someone enforce the notion that football shouldn't be the central focus of any true institution of higher learning? And isn't the someone in this case the NCAA?
Let the Paterno statue stand as a reminder of the good and the evil that he brought to Penn State. But as for the program that he managed and mismanaged, it's time to take it down.
There are a lot of critics and pundits and journalists who object to the use of terms like courage and bravery and honor when it comes to sports. Sometimes even athletes join in, noting in interviews that the "real heroes" are those who serve in the armed forces or try to raise families on minimum wage incomes, or fight fires or walk a beat.
I too am sometimes off-put or even offended when sportscasters breathlessly whisper about an athlete's courage in playing in a game despite an injury or after the death of a loved one. This discomfort is heightened when athletes and coaches use military terms to refer to the games in which they participate. No matter how difficult or grueling or against all odds a contest may be, when you go on to a field of play you are never going into battle.
But there are moments in sports, unlike almost any other endeavor other than war, in which courage is truly shown. One such instance occurred Sunday, when a soccer player made an appearance in the last five minutes of a soccer game between the Seattle Sounders and the Colorado Rapids.
Steve Zakuani had been severely injured in in a match against the same opponent 15 months earlier. In April of 2011, Brian Mullan, a midfielder for the Rapids, tackled Zakuani hard near the touchline. Zakuani's foot caught beneath him and he fractured his right fibula and tibia. Zakuani was told by doctors he would never play soccer again. Mullan was suspended for 10 matches.
Through a long and painful rehab, Zakuani maintained a positive outlook, which he continued to demonstrate during the match (he was only on for about six minutes, but there was at least one slide tackle challenge -- not from Mullan -- that at least had me holding my breath) and afterward when he and Mullan embraced and exchanged shirts.
To make it through that grinding recovery, then step on to the pitch with the player who had maimed him (Zakuani had long before forgiven Mullan and Mullan, to his credit, showed genuine remorse from the start) can only be called courageous. Zakuani may or may not, ultimately, fully recover from his injury. But I can't imagine that anyone is not rooting for him to do so. And I can't think of any word that more aptly describes his comeback, and his actions, than courageous.
And as for the Sounders' fans, if you need any affirmation that the United States is becoming a soccer nation, just take a listen. Eddie Johnson, the Sounders' forward who has played in the English Premier League and Championship, Greece, and Mexico, in addition to MLS, said of the fans: "Man, that's the loudest I've ever heard it. that's the loudest I've ever heard a stadium."
The whole video's almost nine minutes long, but stick around for the first minute and a half, when the Sounders' fans chant "Steve!" "Zak-u-ani!" back-and-forth. If that don't raise the hair on the back of your neck, nothing will.
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