Posts Tagged ‘sports’

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Venus’ Last Stand

September 8th, 2015
When siblings are awesome.

For a couple of years she beat her little sister, but now Serena gets all the big wins. Time is separating the two, now Venus is “only” the 23rd top player in the world. Tonight’s match may be the last meaningful showdown between the sisters.

First set: Serena.

Second set: Venus — decisively.

Third set: still early, leaning Serena. I’m kind of pulling for big sister Venus. I gotta think it will matter around the table at Thanksgiving.

Observations Observations

Damn Right I Throw Like a Girl

August 9th, 2015
Because it is my duty to fight stereotypes.

Once, in a bar, I watched a young woman throw darts. “You play third base,” I said to the complete stranger.

She turned to me, surprised. (I was also a little surprised, because somehow I had spoken to an attractive stranger.) “Second base,” she said.

I was surprised in turn. Her delivery of the dart was pure infield, but with a shoulder motion that meant velocity was rewarded – but not to the degree of the big outfield throws. I think on God’s team she would have played third. She would not have been on God’s darts team.

My throw, when my arm is working right, is a lot like hers. (Though I can CRUSH her at darts. Totally different throw.) A short, low-shoulder whip, but with enough extension to send the ball a long way. Made for third base. Not that big-circle outfielder throw, or that tight second-base throw where you also have to give the first baseman a look at the pill before you chuck it her way.

Like the French are to cheese, we in America are to the overhand throw. Nowhere else is it so dissected, so analyzed, so understood. And nowhere else will you find the medical knowledge to deal with injuries to the shoulder. We live in the nation of the overhand throw. Baseball, football, even basketball, somehow on this continent we decided that it was OK to use the appendage best-suited for moving a ball to move a ball in sports.

On this continent, when you say someone throws like a girl, you are comparing them to a group where many throw way better than you do. Around here, there are a lot of girls who can seriously bring it. So let’s get this right.

When you want to disparage someone’s ability to chuck something, the correct phrase is “Throws like a European.” Have you seen those guys? Shit, it’s like they haven’t even realized they have elbows.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Remembering a Great

May 22nd, 2015
Don't give me this Man O' War shit.

Watching sports silently, I just saw an ad for the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel in the triple crown of horse racing.

It got me to thinking about a horse I knew as a kid. Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby in record time, and the buzz began. This was one ridiculously fast horse. I really wasn’t aware of how special that was at the time.

But the three races of the triple crown are different. A horse great at one distance may not do so well at another. The Preakness is a sprint, while the Belmont is a grind. The races favor different horses.

Unless that horse is Secretariat. Forty years and a bit later, Secretariat still holds the records for all three races. I remember watching those races on TV, the first time I ever gave a hang about horse racing, and I remember a horse flying around the course, leaving the pack far behind. In the Belmont, only four other horses even bothered to run against him. The track did not accept “show” bets. One horse kept up for a while, but the tremendous machine put down the fastest 1.5 miles in history of the sport and won by 31 lengths.

It appeared, to a kid watching, almost effortless. The horse just flew, while the rest of the field slogged along somewhere behind. The way he ran, it was like he was barely touching the ground.

I’m not sure, but I think the Belmont was his last race. There was nothing left to prove, an no track wants a race where the outcome is not in doubt. Secretariat broke the game. Nobody asked the horse if he wanted to keep running. Of course, they never asked if he wanted to run in the first place. But, man, that kid could fly. I have to think he enjoyed it.

A few years later I saw a “where are they now” feature and Secretariat was mentioned. I saw a clip of the majestic chestnut romping around in a field, a beautiful horse, still sleek, still fast, still carrying the love of speed, running just because he could. That’s a good retirement.

Writing Writing

What Next, Billy?

May 8th, 2015
Bill Simmons is getting the ol' heave-ho. Maybe that's good.

I just read that Bill Simmons and ESPN are parting ways. Grantland, the property Bill built with ESPN’s money, stays with ESPN.

I don’t expect that many of the regular readers here much care about this event, and that’s probably healthy. But Simmons is a talented writer, good enough that he created a space for himself and built an audience that trusts him. He simply loves sports, and every word he writes reinforces that. He is so good he even makes pro basketball sound interesting.

He writes as a fan, not as a journalist. He talks about those terrible gut-punch losses that fans of a team remember for generations, and when you read his words you remember your own gut-punch moments and you feel connected to something larger. He writes about the love of the guys wearing the right uniforms. He writes about being a father and about beloved dogs. He’ll take his daughter to a hockey game, but the scene in the stands at an NFL game… no way.

After a few years at ESPN he created Grantland, self-described as a sports and pop-culture site. He assembled a range of writers and critics unified by talent, and pretty much nothing else. Television, perhaps, is the one thing that binds them, with a gambling outlier. And music. And movies. And cetera.

As a fan, Bill called the commissioner of the NFL a lying sack of shit. ESPN gives the NFL a lot of money each year for the right to broadcast some of the games. This creates tension. ESPN has to choose: Do they give voice to the knee-jerk fan, or do they respect the hand that feeds them? I was not in the room, and I could be totally wrong, but I suspect money was secondary in the negotiations for the new contract between Simmons and ESPN. Simmons wants tenure. He wants an immunity from the consequences of what he says that ESPN simply cannot give.

No doubt Simmons will create a new megaphone to shout through. No doubt he will attract some of the best young writers out there to balance his histrionics. I’ll be tuning in. But he’ll also be more exposed to the consequences of his fan-jerks than he has been in a long time. It’s going to be interesting to see how this pans out. But he’s a passionate and eloquent writer, so on principle alone I’m behind him.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Pulling for the Flames Now

April 8th, 2015
Their fans deserve it.

I’ve always enjoyed hockey; it’s a game where something is always happening, scoring is a significant event, and the clock keeps ticking even when you wish it wouldn’t. Growing up in the coccyx of the rocky mountains in northern New Mexico, there wasn’t a lot of media coverage of the sport (this was before Colorado had a team), but it was fun to watch when it presented itself.

A brief aside: When I was growing up there was hockey right there in my town, at the local outdoor ice rink. It never even occurred to me that I could participate. I didn’t know anyone who did. I wonder if the hockey environment there has changed in the intervening years.

The first time I formed a loyalty to a team was on my Homeless Tour, when I was passing through Canmore, Canada. The Calgary Flames were in the finals, one win from the Stanley Cup. I got to the bar section of the Boston Pizza just in time to grab the last seat at the bar, behind the taps, and I proceeded to have a Seminal Sports Experience. It started when the whole place went quiet out of respect for the United States national anthem. Then came ‘O Canada’ and the whole damn bar belted it out. Things just got better from there.

The Flames lost, but the fans I met that day were awesome on every level. I became a Calgary fan, but even more I became a fan of Calgary’s fans.

Cut to late nights in the darkness, lying on the Curiously Uncomfortable Couch in my little flat in Prague, listening to radio calls via the Internet. The Flames’ play-by-play announcer was mesmerizing; in my book only the Blackhawks’ announcer was in the same league. Good times.

In the ensuing years I’ve come to be a Sharks fan. It’s the first time I’ve had a local hockey team to root for. I still harbor some loyalty to the Flames, and especially to the fans up there, but the Sharks are my team. So it goes.

I have also grown a hatred for the Los Angeles Kings. Thugs and morons, and if the league is crooked, they are crooked in the new-biggest-market’s favor. Not sure how many season-ending knee-on-knee ‘accidents’ have to happen before someone looks a little closer.

The season is winding down, and the Sharks are out of the playoffs. It’s the end of the third-longest playoff streak in major sports. That makes me sad. The Kings, the current champions, are on the bubble with two games to go. It will either be them or… the Calgary Flames.

Nobody thought the Flames had a chance this year. They’re rebuilding. A lot of kids with talent, but it takes time and experience to make a contender. But here they are, on the brink of making the playoffs. If they get in, Los Angeles doesn’t. It’s that simple.

The Kings have two games left. Tomorrow they play the Flames. Then on Saturday they play the Sharks. Words cannot describe the joy I will feel if the Sharks kill the Kings and put the lads from Calgary into the playoffs.

And this is sports. You love your guys. You hate the filthy bastards who have personally wronged you. You struggle when one of your guys winds up playing with the filthy bastards. But there’s a little more. There are the great fans you meet, people who love their team but aren’t assholes about it. We call those people ‘Flames fans’.

If I were so freakin’ rich that I solved the world’s fresh water problems and had money left over, I’d make an offer for the Flames, just to be part of that thing they have going on up there.

Observations Observations

An Inspirational Leader

January 31st, 2015
The who is as important as the what.

Friday at my group’s morning status meeting we spent a lot more time talking about the odds and ends of life than about actual work. One of the topics: what sports my boss’s newborn son would participate in. The Official Boss of Muddled Ramblings and Half-Baked Ideas believes her son’s reckless and pain-oblivious behavior makes him a good candidate for hockey. That gladdened my heart.

I don’t think I brought up martial arts, but I did have something to contribute on the subject.

Before I get to the specific advice I dispensed (at no charge), I’d like to point out that martial arts are an excellent choice for a kid. Way better than gymnastics, especially for girls. Why get them started on something they will have to abandon when they weigh more than 100 pounds? Better to get them into a good dojo and learn confidence and skills they can take to the grave. I think black belts would look fantastic on grandmas and grandpas alike.

But the phrase ‘good dojo’ brings me to my specific advice. On my Wednesday morning route I pass a fitness/martial art studio. Jiu Jitsu is mentioned in one of their signs. In the gray light of early dawn the lights of the studio spill out into the street. This week as I passed I looked in and saw a collection of young students doing exercises on the floor, all clad in their white robe-thingies. Seated next to the mat on a folding chair was the instructor. He was slouched down, his arms folded across his nearly-horizontal chest.

Wow. My first thought was how disrespectful this was to his students, then I thought about how disrespectful it was to his dojo, and to his discipline. Martial arts have a strong spiritual element; training is focussed on the mind as much as it is on the body. At least when it’s done right. Thinking about it now, I think an instructor has two options: Stand over the students, attentive and engaged, and correct their form, or do the exercises with them. The dude may as well have been smoking crack in front of his impressionable charges.

So my concrete advice to my boss was simply, “don’t let a dude like that teach your kid.” I think that message can be applied in a much wider context.

Get-Poor-Quick Schemes Get-Poor-Quick Schemes

Regular Guy Sports Network

September 19th, 2014

Sports broadcasting is changing, and the fan is the winner. Now let’s give the fan even more control.

Consider this article by Bill Barnwell at You don’t have to read the whole article, but there are two key messages: television will not be the best way to consume sports in the near future, and Barnwell is willing to pay $20,000 to not hear the announcers.

That second tidbit was presented as a little bit of humor at the end of his article, but he’s missed the greater opportunity: not only can we happily marginalize the network announcers, we can choose commentators more to our liking. Enter the Regular Guy Sports Network.

There’s not much sadder than the partially-clothed American male sinking ever-further into his sofa cushions as he watches sports on his television. Alone. Or maybe there’s a group of people with no charismatic nucleus. Or just some guy who can’t stand the voice of Bob Costas. What if, with with a few button-presses, our Costas-hater is able to surround himself with a crew of wise-cracking pals? They love the home team as much as he does, they rip on the calls that go against them, they say inappropriate things about the opposing star player. They shred Costas. It’s pretty clear they’re drunk, and talking around Cheetos. Just like real friends would be.

With digital media, it’s a free market. It’s a way for aspiring comedians and articulate fanatics to get an audience. I tune in to the game, but I choose the regular guys that will be in my living room with me. My pals.

When I first thought of Regular Guy Sports Network, it was a digitally-enabled extension of current network broadcasts. Now I wonder, “who needs those guys?” The technology is there, all I need is a directory service to hook me up with my new sports buddies, and a way to keep their words in synch with what I’m watching. Easy peasy.

So come on, RGSN, make it happen!

Writing Writing

Coming Home

July 11th, 2014
Lebron takes his talents to Northeast Ohio

I’ve often stated that the NBA is more like Championship Wrestling than an actual sport. It’s more about the personalities than the actual games. And today, the NBA script writers earned their Emmy. Lebron James is returning to Cleveland.

Cleveland management had to scurry to take down the comical comic-sans screed posted by ownership when Lebron left town four years ago. In that manifesto, ownership guaranteed a championship for their slighted city before Lebron got one in Miami. Two championships later, on his return Lebron is saying he’s not guaranteeing anything, but that there’s nothing he wants more than to bring a trophy home to the place he grew up.

His letter to Sports Illustrated has been carefully crafted, vetted by lawyers, agents, PR experts, sycophants, and Lebron’s mom, but you know what? I actually believe it. I think that’s where he wants to raise his kids. I think it’s where he wants to end his career. It doesn’t hurt that no major sports team from Cleveland has won a championship in 50 years; he brings them a title, he’s God in that town. By my reckoning, he has four years.

Meanwhile, in Miami, the Heat will be determined to prove that they can be good without Lebron, that the other highly-paid superstars can carry the team, that Lebron was just a cog in the machine. They will fail. This past year management put the team on Lebron’s shoulders through the grind of the season to rest their other stars, and then in the finals the well-rested other stars vanished and Lebron ran out of gas. I’m no expert on sports, and certainly not on sorta-sports like professional basketball, but I won’t be putting any money on the boys from South Beach this year.

But as a fellow writer, I have to tip my hat to the NBA. Here’s a story that even non-fans in the offseason are talking about. That’s a good script.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

My Favorite World Cup Moment (So Far)

June 24th, 2014
Stop the clock, FIFA. Just stop the clock.

I was sorta-watching the match between Bosnia-Herzegovina and Nigeria over the weekend. Sorta-watching because I was at work and the game was on my phone. Wee tiny soccer.

Nigeria had a 1-goal lead and time was running out for the Bosnians. Suddenly, a rash of horrific injuries swept through the ranks of the Nigerians, injuries so awful that all the poor men could do was to lie on the turf in agony. Play stops in these situations, but the clock keeps ticking!. The ref adds a bit of time at the end of the game to make up for the stoppages, but when a team really commits to lying on the grass, they will chew up far more game time than the ref adds back on.

One of these terrible injuries occurred right by the sideline. The Nigerian was so blinded by pain he couldn’t even manage to roll three feet to get off the field of play. FIFA officials and doctors hovered around the seemingly-mortally-wounded athlete, wringing their hands. FIFA people are under strict orders not to risk exacerbating the injuries of world-class athletes, and the team doctors had no interest at all in seeing this man to a speedy recovery. Not while he was on the field of play, anyway. Once a player reaches the sidelines the restorative atmosphere suddenly improves to the point where the stricken lad is often able to rejoin the fray in a matter of seconds.

If only there was a way to get the wounded man to the sidelines and the instant relief to be found there! To be so close to the sidelines but still unable to get that last couple of feet must be pure torment.

Happily, the Bosnian goalkeeper was level-headed enough to provide succor to his foe. The goalie ran over, grabbed the Nigerian under the armpits, and pulled him bodily off the pitch, to the alarm and consternation of FIFA officials and team doctors. I’m sure the Nigerian player was grateful, however, because in a few seconds he was completely healed. I imagine that after the game he probably bought the Bosnian goalie a beer in gratitude.

Observations Observations

Are You Sure You Have the Right Event?

June 14th, 2014
Somewhere the handball championship 2014 is screaming for its logo back.

This is the logo for the FIFA World cup:

One of the F’s in FIFA stands for ‘football’, the more-descriptive name for the most popular sport in the world. It is the least hand-oriented sport I can think of.

Yet… look again at that logo. It’s made of hands! It looks like multiple people grabbing for the ball — something that never, ever, would happen in that game. It’s like using swim fins in a hockey logo. I’m sure the folks at FIFA had thousands of designs to choose from; surely one of them actually represented the game being played.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Let Go, [team]!

May 10th, 2014

In the U.S., fans in a stadium will often take up a chant follows a standard form. For my hapless favorite baseball team, it would go:

Let’s go, Pa- dres! – clap, clap, clap-clap-clap

Where the typesetting above indicates higher and lower pitch. In the case of the Padres, it works pretty well. The team name has the right number of syllables and a good hard consonant in the middle to kick the last syllable.

Last night I was watching a hockey game played in Minnesota. The name of the team is the Wild. Inevitably came the chant:

Let’s go, Wi- ld!

ld? The cheer finishes weakly. It’s still fun, and there are plenty of other teams with a similar problem, so at first I didn’t think much of it. But then I thought of the actual content of the cheer. “Let’s go, Bruins!” is a nice way to motivate your team, but in Minnesota they have a unique opportunity. The cheer says, “Let’s go wild!” That actually adds a new dimension. When they cheer, there should be a little wildness.

My humble proposals:

Let’s go WILD!

or, even better (or at least wilder):


warbling so the arena’s rafters shake with the sound of an attack by a horde of cartoon saracens.

Let’s go, Wild fans! Get wild!

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Steroids in Entertainment

April 17th, 2014

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and steroids in particular, in sports. But while two of the major sports in the US get most of the attention, what is carefully NOT said is that steroids permeate the entertainment industry.

This entire episode is really an aside for a thought I was developing a while back: Superman does ‘roids. As steroid abuse became prevalent in sports, we the couch potatoes began to form an entirely different idea of what ‘ripped’ was, and the bodies of superheroes naturally had to live up to that ideal. Our heroes, even the fictitious ones from other planets, have been sporting ever-more-sculpted bodies, keeping up with Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno and all the other ‘roided-up bodybuilders of the ’70’s.

Today, while sports-related PED use gets all the press, other branches of the entertainment industry are desperately clinging to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The entertainment press has no interest in exposing steroid use among actors; infidelity and coke are mainstays of scandal but let’s not talk about how Actor X got so buff for his last movie. Scandal sells, but only the sort of scandal that perpetuates the Hollywood Myth. In a land of smoke and mirrors, only the smoke and mirrors are sacred.

That’s not to say that the sports franchises have come clean.

This is where the picture of Elmer Fudd sitting on a powder keg, fuse almost burned away, with his fingers in his ears and his eyes shut tight would be if it were legal for me to put an image like that here, and/or if my searches for such an image had borne fruit.

Take the NBA, for example. The leadership of the league will tell you that steroids are not a problem in their league. This isn’t based on any sort of science, or on a rigorous testing policy (testing in the NBA is a joke), but rather on the assertion that steroids don’t enhance the type of activities that basketball players do.

Um… say what?

Let’s imagine for a moment that we could jump in a time machine and go back to the ’80’s, and have a chat with one of the greatest basketball players ever to have donned a pair of sneakers. We know Michael Jordan is motivated by winning and pretty much nothing else. So let’s imagine what his answer would be if we told him, “there’s a chemical you can take that will allow you to jump a tiny bit higher, last a little longer on the court, and to recover more quickly from the inevitable sprains and bruises that are part of your game. It’s not exactly within the rules of the game, but you definitely won’t get caught.”

Michael Jordan had that choice. Knowing how driven he is to win, which choice would surprise you more, that he did or did not use steroids?

What a potential nightmare for the NBA.

I have to assume that the use of PED’s is also rampant in hockey. Since an individual star has the least impact in hockey compared to the bigger three sports, the does-he-or-doesn’t-he discussions are less common. A hockey player could juice up until he turned into a minotaur and commenters would say “that line has had some great shifts lately.” Over 82 games the performance boost would be measurable, but wouldn’t stand out so flagrantly. So I think it’s safe to assume that ‘roids are in use, even though no one talks about it.

Then there’s the sport-like entertainment product brought to us by the WWE, called, euphemistically, “wrestling”. You want to see what max-boost steroid use will do to a human? Look no further. Image is what they sell. Back in the day some of the biggest names in the ring were also big tubs of goo. Strong men, and passable actors, but hardly ripped. Now, take a moment to look at the headliners for the next WWE event. Pretty crazy, right? Everyone knows these guys do steroids. As long as no one talks about it too loudly, all parties are allowed to let things continue this way.

So why are we OK with these guys using steroids, but not the athletes in ‘real’ sports? The generally agreed upon reason to ban these drugs is to protect the health of athletes. But is the health of a baseball player inherently more valuable than the health of a pro wrestler? If health were the real reason, then outrage would be consistent across the entertainment industry.

And, you know? I can get therapies for my sore knee that professional athletes can’t. Does that make sense?

If not health, then what is the reason? Is it fairness? I think mostly yes. As the system stands, people willing to break the rules have an advantage over those who behave ethically. Particularly in my favorite country, the United States, that rankles. It sure bothers me. So ‘real’ sports, where there’s actual competition, try with varying levels of success to catch the cheaters.

Unless you consider the NBA a real sport. (It’s borderline for me.) There’s really not much effort to enforce their drug policy. They do have random testing, sure, but they can only test a player four times each year. After the fourth test, a player is off to the races. Even before that, the tests are easy to beat.

Interestingly, this continued state of denial, of not doing anything meaningful to police the use of performance-enhancing drugs, puts the NBA in a position to bring about meaningful change. Were I king of that league, I’d pass the following edict: People pay to see the top performers in our sport. We will provide that product. To maintain fairness, we’ll allow all athletes in our league to take whatever PED’s are legal in this land, and we’ll even provide responsible medical supervision.

Bickety-bam, prohibition is over. And while there will still be cheaters who do unhealthy amounts of performance-enhancing drugs, the advantage they gain by doing so will be diminished. And when your favorite athlete comes back from an injury more quickly, everyone wins. Seriously, how can it be a bad thing when someone gets well more quickly? There are some big-name athletes with shadows over them because of ‘miraculous recoveries’. They must have cheated, right? What kind of messed-up system makes recovering from an injury too quickly a bad thing?

So let’s put on our Goggles of Reasonableness and question the assumptions behind the prohibition of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. And while we’re at it, lets recognize a simple truth: We want to watch enhanced performers.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

If I Ran the Sharks Tonight

January 20th, 2014

I’d tell Calgary beforehand, and I’d put my fourth line on the ice for the first shift, as a gesture of solidarity. Tortorella is the best thing to happen to the Canucks for a while, but sending his troops in for an all-out brawl before the puck had time to hit the ice is going a little too far. Sure, he has to protect the Sedin sisters, but I think he could have found some balance.

Idle Chit-Chat Idle Chit-Chat

Baseball Playoff Fever

October 2nd, 2013

As I type this, Cleveland and Tampa bay are playing a single game to see which team gets to be in the playoffs. (Technically this is a playoff game, but don’t be fooled; it is a contrived spectacle that rewards mediocrity.)

Out there somewhere is a Tampa Bay Rays fan on the edge of his seat, living and dying with each pitch, as his team battles for a spot in the postseason. But there’s only one. The networks are not rooting for Tampa Bay.

Observations Observations

Bitching About the Refs

September 6th, 2013
Soccer, this time.

Is it me, or are the refs in Columbia-Ecuador doing a really horrible job? I’m watching with the sound off, but it looks like there was a red card on a flop that was a complete travesty of justice, a goalkeeper ‘injury’ chewing up ten minutes of clock, and then a yellow card on a tackle where the defender was between the ball and the other guy, got kicked, and then was given a yellow card for his trouble.

Regarding the red card, I had vague hopes that at the half the officials would look at the play again and realize that the guy they’d tossed from the game was innocent, and the guy who flopped should be ejected, and all would be made right for the second 45 minutes. That’s not the way things work, however.

I don’t follow the sport closely enough to know whether this game has World Cup implications, but I suspect it does, and Ecuador has a right to be pissed off. Except… Columbia seems to be the better team, flopping and bad calls notwithstanding. Not all the terrible calls have been in their favor, either. So the outcome is looking like it should, but the process of getting there has been terrible.

The shitty calls go both ways. After I typed the above, I watched a play just outside the penalty box, where a Columbian beat the defender and was then tripped. “Now that’s a yellow card,” I said to myself. The ref jogged over, pulled the yellow card out of his pocket, and held it up in the face of the guy who got tripped. Obviously the ref was sensitive to dives after the previous tragedy, but in this case he called diving on a guy who would have had a shot on goal if he kept his feet.

Columbia probably should win, but they have no right to be proud of the way they did it.