Archive for the Sports Category

…you think Being Really Really Serious about your Sport makes you good at it.

Posted in All, Inconsiderate & Rude, Sports, Stupid Trends with tags , , , , , on January 29, 2012 by oooranje

I have played a handful of sports, some of them fairly competitively.  I have rowed, I have pitched, I have bowled outswingers and played cover drives, and I have occasionally made a basket, although my range is about 5 feet. It can safely be said that I love sports, and I love playing them against other people who love sports.

But what I hate – and I mean absolutely loathe – is playing against some over-aggressive jackass who lowers his head on drives to the basket and then turns around and throws a temper tantrum because you called a foul when he hacked you on the other end. Nor is this a type reserved solely for the basketball court – this is the pitcher throwing 65 mph brushback ‘fastballs’ in the adult rec league, the part-time tennis player who loses his cool when you call his wild serve out too many times, the 250-pound (120-kilo) football player swearing at the ref for not calling a penalty kick for a dive in the box.  This is the overgrown man-child (although occasionally it happens with women, too) crying for his mommy because you pointed out his lack of talent a little too directly, and that hurt his ego.

And sometimes, due to that wonderful concept of ‘seniority’, this jackass becomes captain of his team. And in those situations, look out! Because this idiot will promote every single last one of his idiot buddies up the lineup until you’re looking at a 3-guard set of double-dribbling whiners, an elbow-throwing 5-foot-8 ‘center’ crying foul on every shot that doesn’t go in, or – worst of all – a boat full of unathletic slobs rushing up the slide like the ice cream man just pulled up on the Fourth of July.

That’s not to say everyone who’s serious isn’t good.  Some people do have genuine talent, and I don’t have a problem with them.  They’re just better than me.  But the others – the delusional 33 year-olds throwing up bricks for one last shot at glory – those I cannot stand.  For them, being really really serious about their sport does not make them good. It just makes them incredibly unpleasant to play against.

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…because your desire to win trumps reason, morals, or any consideration of the impact of your actions.

Posted in Faux Elitism, Illiterate, Inconsiderate & Rude, Sports, Stupid Trends with tags , , , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2011 by oooranje

Ordinarily, this would be about the Yankees and how George Steinbrenner’s extravagant spending basically destroyed the sport of baseball (yes, I know, Yankees fans, if he didn’t do it someone else might have blah blah championships blah blah Derek Jeter), but today, on the heels of news of John Calipari’s contract renewal, it’s about something else.

The reality, the unquestioned, unquestionable reality is that John Calipari has served as the leader of not one, but two programs whose performance reached new, unprecedented heights in near-record time, reached the Final Four, and then had to vacate entire seasons worth of wins – in both cases the most successful seasons in program history – due to a wide array of NCAA violations.  In fact, had it not been for Kansas’ miracle comeback, we’d be talking about a vacated National Championship (a regular occurrence in college football these days, sadly, but in basketball?).  That is unquestioned, unassailable reality.

Cut to 2011, in Cal’s second year at Kentucky.  A program that had been in the doldrums reaches heights it had not aspired to for almost a decade.  The turnaround is remarkable, especially given just how much difficulty Calipari’s squeaky-clean predecessor had winning at the same school.

Except that it isn’t.  I’m not saying that Calipari has cheated this time, and I’m not saying he hasn’t.  What I’m saying is that his blemished record makes it impossible not to consider the possibility that he has.  A collegiate basketball coach is hired not only to make the players on his team better, not only to recruit good, eligible players to his team, but also to serve as the front-line defense of the reputation of the university he coaches.  Therefore, a failure to ensure that one’s program is above the law is ultimately a failure to do one’s job.

Calipari has a history of recruiting athletes who, for whatever reason, commit NCAA violations.  To plead ignorance once – in the case of Marcus Camby in particular – may fly, but to twice have entire seasons vacated because of your inability to police your program or check out the validity of your recruits – that’s incompetence at best.  At worst, it’s complicit and concerted cheating.  Either way, it’s impossible to call John Calipari good at his job when this is the legacy he leaves programs.

Finally, when Jim Tressel’s athletes traded paraphernalia for tattoos – not even financial compensation – Tressel was ultimately fired because he knew about it and didn’t report it.  No seasons – let alone wins – were vacated as a result.  And a football team is 7 times the size of a basketball squad of 15.  Calipari has repeatedly demonstrated his inability – unwillingness? – to ensure that his teams consist of legal, valid, and eligible athletes.  He continues to recruit players (Enes Kanter, most recently) who exist in the grey areas of eligibility.  In short, his coaching style is unrepentant and unchanged despite the two near-death penalties which he has saddled former squads with.  The man does not care how his actions affect the sport.  And Kentucky, by hiring him, has shown that they do not either.

For their sake, and for the sake of college basketball, let’s hope the violations are over. Personally, I doubt it.

…you’re Duke.

Posted in All, Faux Elitism, Sports, Stupid Trends with tags , , , , , , , on March 28, 2011 by oooranje

A lot has been said about this particular topic, especially lately, and I could write volumes about it. The fact is, all of the various basic accusations are true: does Coach K get special treatment? Absolutely. Is there a tinge of racism to his recruiting? Yes, although the media shares part of the blame there for lionizing his teams beyond their ability year in and year out. And finally, are Duke fans utterly delusional elitists grasping at straws to explain their special treatment? Yes, yes they are.

First, for the favoritism shown Duke’s defense by referees: any Malcolm Gladwell reader can point out the snowball effect that the myth of Duke’s ‘hard work’ and ‘hustle’ has in terms of the calls they get on the court. Referees convinced that Duke has a lock on how to play defensive basketball are infinitely more likely to call borderline charge calls in their favor, and routinely do. Duke players are almost as notorious for flopping as they are for reaching in and hacking; as Wake Forest Coach Bob Staak once put it: “Oh yeah, Duke plays great F’ing defense. Five guys fouling all the time.” Duke plays a kind of high-energy, high-contact defense that should put them in the double bonus by the ten-minute mark (and does do so for other teams), but instead get lauded for their effort. For evidence of what happens when refs do call fouls against Duke appropriately, one need look no farther than their game against Maryland on February 12, 2005: all five starters fouled out, and they lost to an inferior squad in overtime.

Coach K is an unapologetic, self-aggrandizing control freak, and it shows in every part of his coaching strategy, from recruitment on up. The racism Jalen Rose identified in the Fab Five documentary is, in my opinion, not necessarily outright bigotry so much as Coach K’s unwillingness to recruit anyone he doesn’t think he can control (perhaps he was burned by Luol Deng’s early departure, who knows?). As a result, he tends to recruit smaller, less talented athletes, because he knows they know they need him and his system, and won’t depart early for the draft. While I would argue this doesn’t have to exclude inner-city African Americans, clearly, in Coach K’s mind, it does.

Make no mistake, when I say ‘less talented’, I don’t mean these are scrubs – they are still All-Americans. K wanted Harrison Barnes as bad as anyone else, among others. But by recruiting athletes who are not head and shoulders better than everyone around them, Krzyzewski places the onus of the discussion on his ‘superior coaching intellect’. According to K, the story should consistently be that his five, B-list athletes (to use a Hollywood term) can beat teams with 6 or 7 All-Americans on their roster, and that the brunt of the difference is made up by his unparalleled coaching. Nor is he gracious about letting others point this out: he repeatedly goes out of his way to point out that his team of hardworking underdogs are going up against lottery picks in every game. It’s a strangely passive-aggressive way of pumping yourself up, much like K’s yearly flirtation with the LA Lakers: clearly, in Krzyzewski’s mind, he is the only thing standing between Duke and basketball oblivion. He may actually be right, but not because his coaching strategy makes diamonds out of coal. What K brings to Duke is the myth of Duke as the great White hustlers, and the favoritism comes with it. Without K, that disappears, and they become another 16-13 team in the middle of the ACC pack.

Duke fans are absolutely insane about how their team has ‘fundamentals’ and ‘does it right.’ Over and over again, Duke haters are confronted with that line, almost verbatim, the idea that the nation loathes Duke because Duke is the only team that actually plays real, hustle basketball. Which of course is an utter lie; if Duke fans legitimately cheered for someone who ‘does it right’, ‘cares about fundamentals’ and plays hard, they would have been Tyler Hansbrough fans. Never has there been a clearer case of someone with limited talent and ability who worked his ass off to overcome that. And yet they howled against him, denigrated his performances, and finally, threw an elbow at him (a clearly intentional assault that Coach K later explained away by saying he shouldn’t have been on the floor), and therein lies the nuance of Duke’s outlook: it’s not racism per se, it’s elitism, and it’s phoney elitism. It is perhaps no surprise that a student body brought together primarily by their failure to get into Harvard and Princeton would spend the rest of their time at college desperately trying to prove they are better than the rest of the world, and, more specifically, better than their in-state, public-school rivals down the road.

Tyler Hansbrough, and the Carolina class that won the 2009 NCAA Championship with him, were hated above all because they exposed Duke for the self-satisfied, self-anointed blowhards that they are. Starting with the Senior Night game at Duke in 2006, their hard work made a mockery of the self-involved Duke Seniors, none more so than JJ Reddick. Reddick was supposed to be the white, blue-collar hero of that game, of that season, and of that decade. And then Tyler came along, and shot that 3 at the top of the key with the shot clock winding down, and the horrible reality came suddenly into focus: there were blue-collar, hard-working heroes who did it right and hustled on the floor, but they were Carolina Blue. Not, as it were, Royal Blue.

Duke continues to be the most overrated, mollycoddled team in college basketball. They are not the only ones to get preferential treatment, but they are among the worst. Why? Because elevating Duke, and praising them for ‘doing it right’ is insulting to every college basketball fan and player who has ever hustled, played good defense, or been a good sportsman. It is an outright lie, and if the basketball establishment were ever to admit that, Duke would fade from the firmament, with or without Coach K.

…you don’t think the Associates belong at the ODI World Cup.

Posted in All, Sports with tags , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2011 by oooranje

Lately there has been a significant uproar because the Cricket ODI World Cup organizers have decided, after two appalling opening results, that the Associates should no longer be part of the Cricket World Cup. The reasons seem pressing and unquestionable: it is embarrassing for both sides when the differences in playing ability are so marked as to make the games feel pointless and laughable. Kenya vs. New Zealand, in particular, is emblematic of this disease. It is sad but true that the latter team, a full ICC Member, is eons superior to the former team, a qualified Associate, and this showed clearly on the cricket pitch. Clearly, this day was a debacle for cricket everywhere and should never be repeated, right?

Wrong. Consider the basic assumption that goes into the logic for excluding Associates from the ODI World Cup going forwards: that it is unseemly and demoralizing for the Associates in question for them to be so completely beaten on the international stage, and that it is, in effect, better for everyone if they are kept from such defeats. Compare this to the reality of College Basketball’s March Madness, where teams clearly hailing from lesser funding, fewer scholarship players, and less competitive leagues go up against the titans of the sport: yes, the 16-seeds are routinely obliterated, yes 20- and 30-point margins, crushing victories without question, are common and a part of the equation. But anyone who has ever seen the faces of the ‘minnows’ of college basketball – Canisius and Coppin State and Mississippi Valley State – as they enter the arena for that hopeless game, anyone who has watched them win their qualifying championship with the full awareness that they are little more than cannon fodder for the big boys, anyone who has watched them play and give everything on the court just to keep the margin low, and seen them lose with grace and even joy, that person knows how untrue the ICC’s assumption is. The truth is that, even for minnows, even for the weakest team in the tournament, there is more respect given for being on the same field and playing on an even level with the greats, even if that means a crushing defeat, than there is in winning their lower division, year in and year out, never having the opportunity to really test their limits. Even more importantly, consider the impact that a single, Cinderella-type upset has on the sport: when George Mason went on its run in 2006, the entire event became charged, tinged with magic; those whose teams had long fallen by the wayside found a common underdog to cheer for, and ratings went through the roof.

Moreover, at a time when cricket has much deeper problems in terms of finding its place in the sporting world at large, when the Olympics has just accepted the short, Twenty20 format as a trial sport and thus opened the floodgates to worldwide cricket participation, it stands to reason that limiting the participation of teams that have consistently shown their class in the shorter format is tantamount to cutting the older, one-day game off at the legs. Top-flight, elite-level cricket is not harmed by the inclusion of some weaker teams – yes, New Zealand trounced Kenya, and others will likely do the same, but the same New Zealand team will also have to play Australia next, and Sri Lanka and Pakistan as well. Excellent, Members-only cricket will also be played at this World Cup, have no fear of that.

More to the point, not all Associates have proven themselves incapable of playing with Members: It took England 49 overs and 294 runs to beat the Netherlands, in what stands out as perhaps the most gripping match of the Cup so far. When that same Netherlands team did actually beat England at Lord’s two Twenty20 World Cups ago, it galvanized the world of Associates cricket, breathing new life into their play and opening up the real possibility of upward mobility in the cricket world. More than that, the shocking upset drew eyes to the sport that would never have watched it otherwise, mine included.

And yet, now, the ICC in their wisdom have ordained that neither the morale of the Associates, nor the health of the ODI game, nor the potential excitement of fans worldwide, is more important than keeping the scorelines tight, and the social calendar for full Members even tighter. This is elitism, make no mistake, and it runs the risk of seriously harming the game. It should not be allowed to continue.

…you think your team’s lackluster record in conference play is because your conference is so strong you just beat each other up.

Posted in All, Faux Elitism, Sports on December 2, 2009 by oooranje

You hear this literally ever year, particularly in college football, where of course it makes the biggest difference (playoffs, anyone?). Yeah, sure, USC has two losses, but those are Pac-10 losses, and the Pac-10 is a STRONG conference, so really USC is still a better football team than anyone else (though, of course, not this year). You hear it also in basketball, notably in Big Ten and for some reason in the SEC as well, and of course in the NFL where the NFC East is home to the Giants, Eagles, Cowboys, and even the Redskins, all of which have in recent memory been playoff and/or blue-ribbon teams. Apparently your conference can’t help itself; all teams end up within a game or two of .500, and if they happen to lose a game or two to an inconveniently, demonstrably terrible non-conference opponent, well, that’s just because fighting all the quality in-conference teams has so thoroughly drained them.

To put it bluntly: good teams win, great teams win often, and there isn’t some vast, right-wing conspiracy out there with a vendetta against you or your team (unless you’re a non-BCS school in Division 1 football, in which case, yes there is) which steadfastly refuses to give your 7-5 (4-4) team a chance. Mediocrity, like lukewarm cabbage, may not be your favorite meal, but it sure seems to be what your team/conference/division has on the menu lately. And no amount of blustering or revisionist history will change that.

…because you don’t understand the significance of football/soccer to Europeans.

Posted in All, Faux Elitism, Illiterate, Sports with tags , , , , , on November 19, 2009 by oooranje

Among the many things that may fall under the banner of ‘cultural differences’, the European love of soccer may be one of the most perennially perplexing of all phenomena to American observers. It’s a very evenly, moderately-paced, generally speaking non-contact (in the same sense that basketball is non-contact) sport that for the most part results in very few scores, which makes it the near-polar opposite of the quintessentially American standbys, basketball and football. Particularly since the NHL has changed its rules to encourage scoring and despite the emergence of a viable American professional soccer league, it seems difficult for most of my friends to understand how 90 uninterrupted scoreless minutes can be just as engaging, if not more, than 60 minutes of high-octane, close-focus, car commercial-punctuated action.

Well and good, write that down to upbringing and temperament, and maybe also to the fact that soccer aka football is very much a European lingua franca in the sense that, come time for national teams, there is no question of whether or not you’re a fan or not, you root your heart out anyway.

But there is something, additionally, that is missing in the American understanding of European national soccer teams, and it is probably due to geography: having only two contiguous neighbors, and having by and large dominated them in our major pastimes pretty much from the get-go, it seems that we are often at a loss to comprehend the impressively high stakes with which international soccer games are presented and perceived in Europe. It’s just a game, after all – never mind that it is the main, unifying outlet of centuries of nationalism and rivalry that we with our paltry two hundred and nearly-thirty-five-year history as a nation cannot begin to comprehend. Never mind that international soccer in Europe serves as a focal point and testing ground not only for the hopes and dreams of teams and their fans, but even as a debate between national ideologies (the Germans are famous for their methodical, rational passing approach, the English for their no-nonsense game punctuated by opportunistic set pieces, the Dutch for their ‘total football’ improvisation-on-the-fly mindset). In other words, soccer is huge in Europe not only as the game of choice, but also as an expression of national identity and ambition, minus all that killing and war stuff.

Which is why it’s particularly irksome to have a national news service so thoroughly miss the mark on the most recent example of poor sportsmanship by a French national team (in case you had forgotten this, now you remember). The same news service that applauded Michigan State’s March Madness Run as a ‘bailout in basketball shoes’ actually had the nerve to suggest that the Irish demand for a replay (while admittedly unlikely from the word go) was ‘akin to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder demanding that the NFL make the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins play again because of a disputed fumble in the end zone.’

No it isn’t. American football is regional. European soccer is national. Sure the fan counts are often the same (or smaller, if you’re a small European country), but it is at once offensive and illogical to compare two major-market American football teams to the plucky David in its fight against the unabashedly arrogant Goliath (French fans justified the win as admittedly stolen, but ok because France ‘belongs’ in the World Cup, this despite their miserable showing in ’06 and even worse effort in Euro ’08). I’m not saying there should be a rematch – I think that would actually be bad for FIFA and international soccer – but I do think not getting it, like CNN in this instance, does not make you special.

…you’re a Yankees, Lakers, Cowboys, or USC football fan (Red Sox potentially also included).

Posted in All, Faux Elitism, Sports, Stupid Trends on October 15, 2009 by oooranje

This breaks down a couple different ways. First off, if you live in or are from new York, LA, or Dallas/Texas (or Boston/Mass), respectively, then sure, it’s your home team, support them. But, like someone lucky enough to be born on the southern side of the Canadian border (or the western, if you’re Alaskan), you should know better than to gloat about it.  Your place of birth is mostly luck of the draw, and anyway you’re no different from every other hometown fan in America (not if your reason for rooting for your team is because of their proximity to you, that is).

If you are not from (or at least in) the same city as your team, then your motives for rooting for these three teams become decidedly shadier – usually, you either ‘respect them for winning’, ‘just think they have the best player(s)’, or saw them play your own shitty hometown team and beat them and have liked them ever since.  
 
If it’s the first reason, then you’re basically admitting that you’re a front-runner – there’s not necessarily any shame in that, but at the same time it’s not really what you’d consider true fandom.  Shift the success somewhere else –  say for instance, to the Washington Nationals, and you’d just be a Nationals fan.  This is particularly obnoxious in instances like non-LA USC football fans, who generally speaking revel in every victory that the surfer coach and his minions rack up, but refuse to take responsibility for the massive setbacks that the university suffers through in most other NCAA sports.  True fans, it seems, either are or are not – there is no ‘if they win this weekend, sure.’  (Apologies to Yoda, incidentally, for that phrasing)
 
The second, ‘they just have the best players’, doesn’t exclude you from front-runner status, it just shifts you to a personal front-runner or, as they’re known in other arenas, a groupie.  I too find Derek Jeter, the Terrell Owens of old, and/or Kobe to be freaks of nature, both incredible athletes and incredibly driven players who often seem like men among boys, but that doesn’t mean I’m instantly a fan of theirs.  In fact, oftentimes I feel like each of these players made (or makes) their teams weaker by their presence, even with their freakish natural abilities factored in.  Thus the statement ‘I’m just a fan of player X, and not his team’ is in fact a selfish reaction that removes the team factor from your consideration of players and states that, it doesn’t matter if your team loses, as long as Derek hits three homers, Kobe scores 80, or Terrell racks up the receiving yards, all is well in your world.  That doesn’t make you special, just myopic and probably self-centered as it suggests that your worldview as concerns your own performance is probably quite similar. 
 
As for the third reason, this basically exposes you as the sadist, desperately elitist jerk that you truly are, because it suggests that, instead of playing the cards you were dealt and rooting for the home team like all of your friends, you instead saw the team they hated crush their beloved underdog, and decided to go for the evil oppressors.  Knowing probably little of your newfound team’s history or past achievements, you saw the opportunity to start at the top, superior to your friends, and will continue to ride that instant superiority forever, becoming only ever more staunch in your fandom as people point out that you literally have zero reason to be a fan of that team.  This is particularly galling if the team you’ve chosen to root for is the archrival of your home team, a la Boston native rooting for the Yankees, because that just indicates you’ve specifically looked for the point of opposition that will garner you the most attention every time the topic of sports is raised.  In fact, it is likely that you have chosen this team specifically to be different, and as the maxim goes, we are never more similar than when we are trying desperately to prove we are special.
 
One other reason that occasionally comes up is that you ‘just saw them on TV and liked them, I don’t know’, or saw an article / read a book / watched a TV show or movie about them that piqued your interest, and off to the races you went.  This is fine and as good a reason as any to support something, except that it essentially means you’re following whatever team ESPN or the other sports networks are suggesting you follow or be aware of, so you have generally speaking the originality of a lemming.
 
Ultimately, it’s fine for you to root for whatever team you want to, but don’t expect any props for choosing to support the team or players most likely to win, or most likely to set you apart.  Not that supporting a loser makes you all that much more special, but at the end of the day, at least there are some valid reasons for why people support the down-and-outs: why else would you still support them, after all?