Sunday, May 20, 2012


Here's a bunch of fun sports bullshit that I found.

1) Must be nice to just fire any adjudicator who gives you decisions you don't like. Tell us, Major League Baseball, is it nice?

2) Bryan Curtis over at Grantland gives us an examination of our two most conspicuous Sports-Fans-In-Chief. For whatever this is worth, I'm sure that both men were/are sincere in their love of sports, but pay attention to Curtis' notes on how this helps them politically, too.

3) I kinda love stories of emerging sports, so check out this tale of Organized (I hesitate to call it "professional") Quidditch. There's a lot to unpack here, so it may generate some more posts later.

4) Soccer is fascinatingly filthy. We need to talk about that a lot more. '

5) MLB is thinking about getting rid of the third-to-first pick-off move. That's small potatoes, but it's really incredibly hard to make any rule change in baseball, so it's going to be interesting to see this develop.

6) Cubs' reliever Kerry Wood has retired. What fascinates me here is how little of his career really ended up being under his control. Think about it- if Dusty Baker hadn't relentlessly overworked him, Wood could be wrapping up a Hall of Fame career. But one nagging injury, incurred as the result of a poor- but by no means insane- team strategy, and here we are.

Finally, a programming note- I'm going on vacation, assholes! I'll be gone two weeks, and will not be posting during that time (Will Mecha-Mothra Mike fill in? WHO KNOWS!?!) But I'll be back at the start of June, where we'll be thinking about a site redesign, as well as filling in some blanks on Junior Seau, corruption in global soccer, that Quidditch league listed above, the NHL's R&D department, and some thoughts on who, exactly, has the right to control fandom (hint: it's just you and me, baby). Oh, and I guess we can talk about the NBA playoffs and NHL Stanley Cup Final, if you want (Go Pacers, Go Kings).

Until then, adios!

The Junior Seau Fallout

I haven't had much to say about Junior Seau, yet. When it happened, my first reaction was that we didn't know anything, so I shouldn't say anything- and it'd be really weird to put together a blog post saying that I shouldn't say anything.

And frankly, we're about two weeks later, and we don't really know that much more. But, the rest of the NFL community is reacting. And I have the funny feeling that this is going to be a long, continuing debate as we discover what, if anything, actually happened here, and start to come to terms with it. This is an important debate. So it sucks that it's already playing out on some pretty fucked up terms.

Specifically, I'm thinking of Kurt Warner. As you probably heard, Warner had this to say in response to Seau's death:

"And when you hear things like the bounties, when you know certain things having played the game, and then obviously when you understand the size, the speed, the violence of the game, and then you couple that with situations like Junior Seau — was that a ramification of all the years playing? And things that go with that. It scares me as a dad. I just wonder — I wonder what the league's going to be like. I love that the commissioner is doing a lot of things to try to clean up the game from that standpoint and improve player safety, which helps, in my mind, a lot. But it's a scary thing for me."

Note carefully that Warner wasn't even committed to keeping his sons out of football, let alone saying what anyone else should do. He just voiced some honest concerns about the game.

ESPN commentator and former player Merrill Hoge had this to say in response:

"I think it's irresponsible and unacceptable. He has thrown the game that has been so good to him under the bus. He sounds extremely uneducated ... Head trauma is not the issue here — it's how head trauma is treated. The game is safer than it has ever been because we're being proactive with head trauma. That is the biggest issue."

There's a lot of dumb packed in there. I see no way that voicing concern about the safety of football is "irresponsible"- quite the opposite, in fact. Nor do I see the need for the completely overused "under the bus" metaphor- c'mon, it's not like the NFL was a charity keeping Warner afloat. He earned his spot on NFL rosters, and made a lot of money for the NFL while doing it. He doesn't owe it anything, let alone his silence. And of course, Hoge is the one who comes off as "uneducated"- head trauma is most certainly one of the issues, otherwise the NFL wouldn't be trying to get it out of the game. And anyway, I don't see where Warner was talking about head trauma as the exclusive issue here, so Hoge is missing the point a little.

But, disagree though I do with Hoge, I'm glad he spoke up. This is, as I said, an important debate, and we need to get as many views as possible. I'm fine with Hoge disagreeing with me- though I'll admit, it helps that his points are so easy to pick apart- I just want to make sure all the views are represented.

Which brings us to Amani Toomer, who said

"I'd definitely have my son to play football. That's what the Toomer family does. We all play football. But what this reminds me of is the guy at the basketball court, who once he gets done playing takes the ball and ruins the game for everybody else. I think Kurt Warner needs to keep his opinions to himself when it comes to this. Everything that he's gotten in his life has come from playing football. He works at the NFL Network right now. For him to try and trash the game, it seems to me that it's just a little disingenuous to me."

And that's just not helping anyone. Toomer is taking it a step beyond disagreeing with Warner and flat out saying that Warner's opinion should not have been voiced.  Maybe Warner's right, maybe he's wrong, but we'll never find out if Toomer had his way. And I think figuring out who's right and wrong- and who's opinion doesn't even fall into the categories of "right" and "wrong"- is the only way football's going to move forward. But we can't do that when one "side" in this debate is saying that another "side" shouldn't even speak up.

But then, Toomer actually reveals why his reaction- and Hoge's, and a lot of other people's- is so over-the-top. "That's what the Toomer family does," he said. And that's the key here. For Toomer and the people like him, football isn't just a game. It isn't just business or an industry or even a lifestyle- it's part of their heritage. It's something that was passed down to them, that they want to pass down to their children.

This isn't that strange. We've all got stories of our dad taking us to our first baseball game, or of teaching our kids to shoot hoops. Sports are part of our heritage, for all of us (or at least, everyone reading this blog). Hell, that's why this blog takes sports so seriously (when you get passed the made-up curse words and dick jokes) When you get that, you can see why some people take attacks on sports very personally.

What is strange is that Warner wasn't telling anyone it shouldn't be part of their heritage. He wasn't even certain that he won't pass it down to his own children (Troy Aikman seemed a lot more resolute, in fact). Warner wasn't calling Toomer or Hoge or anyone else bad parents; he was just trying to explain his thought process on a very difficult decision.

I'm sure I can't read minds (believe me, I've done the necessary testing), but I think Hoge and Toomer's overly-defensive response reveals quite a bit about the strength of their arguments- and their own doubts about football.

Friday, May 11, 2012

When You'd Rather Give Up Than Play a Girl

A conservative Catholic high school in Arizona (of course it's in Arizona) has forfeited a championship baseball game rather than play against a co-ed team that included exactly one girl. Read about it here, laugh about it below, and we'll move on with our lives pretty quickly.

Okay, one more thing- while it is pretty easy to mock the school's decision- fun, too, and highly encouraged on this blog- it's interesting to note that the school is literally only hurting itself with this move. The school is forfeiting. It will be on record as losing this game. The school's baseball team's ultimate goal- the ultimate goal of every team in every sport- is to win the championship, and this team is not even going to be allowed to try. Moreover, all the side benefits of sports- the character building exercises that are supposed to be the real reason schools invest so heavily in athletics- are going to be wiped out by this bizarre temper tantrum. Meanwhile, the girl and her team? They're great! Maybe it would have been nicer if they actually played and won, but it's not like the trophy's going to be any less shiny.

Let this be a lesson: if you're just going to keep on being a reactionary asshole in the face of an ever-more-inclusive sports world, you're going to lose. A lot. Hope the players on the team are okay with that.

Come to think of it- no, I don't. I hope they're pissed- and I hope they do something about it.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Joe Cowley: A Prime Example of Sports Media Fail

We're kinda coming in late to the Joe Cowley thing, but hey, his "jokes" are about 30 years late, too, so all's fair.

To catch you up, Joe Cowley, sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, has been reprimanded by his bosses for a series of disrespectful and misogynist tweets last weekend. He's had a history of pulling some bullshit before, and it appears that he's on his final warning with the paper.

Cowley's misogyny- that's really the only word for it- is certainly disturbing. It even stands out in the insular world of sports writing. Yes, sports writing was, for far too long, the exclusive purview of men. And yes, too many people still feel or act like it should be; they're hostile to women interviewing athletes, they expect women to put their sexuality first, and they're dismissive of women's ability to write. Cowley was certainly empowered and influenced by all of that. But Cowley is also a step beyond all of that, if only because he was so explicit- and so committed!- about it. He really wants you to know that he thinks women can't fly planes!

Of course, the line on Cowley is that he's intentionally "provocative" and "edgy", so I guess it's no surprise that he crosses the line every once in a while. He's the sports equivalent of a shock jock. But that's one of those defenses that actually just causes more harm, because sports doesn't need shock jocks.

Yes, sports need to be entertaining- but they are all on their own. Football, baseball- these things are not so boring that they can only be appreciated with a sports writer inserting unrelated one-liners, MST3K-style, into his coverage of them. They stand just fine on their own, and when we need a little extra entertainment from them, I'd prefer to go to straight-up humor sites like Down Goes Brown or NBA Memes.

Sports writers, broadcasters, reporters- these guys are supposed to be informing us about the game. When they don't do that, when they use their positions as just another venue for their stand up act, they're cheating us. Guys like Cowley are trying to market a persona, and we don't give a shit about his persona, we just want to know about the games.

(This is one of those "General Principle" things. ESPN could learn that fact, if it weren't so busy printing Chris Berman posters.)

Joe Cowley deserves every bit of scorn coming his way for his nasty comments. But the fact is, even if he never says another unkind word about women again, he's still useless to us. Because we want to watch sports, not the Joe Cowley Show.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Women Scouts in the NFL

Over at ESPN, Jeff Davis makes the case for more women in the NFL scouting corps. Hard to argue with him. As I've said before, every institution benefits from diversity. More points of view are better for everyone, and while different genders don't guarantee meaningfully different points of view, it's a decent proxy. So, at the very least, any kind of formal or informal bar on women in any role in the NFL (outside of maybe playing, given the physical demands of the game) is indefensible and, ultimately, counter-productive for the NFL.

In fact, I'd say that the scouting corps has a uniquely pressing need for diversity. Scouting corps are, by and large, the exact sort of conventional-wisdom-spouting old-boys-clubs that resist every kind of major change in the game, whether it be broad scale reform or just hiring an athlete from a slightly different background. All too often, scouts are former players (of dubious skill or prestige) or long-time hangers-on. Generally speaking, they're way too focused on their subjective assessments of a players' "mental make up" or their narrow definition of "proper form" to understand the things that actually lead to success.

After all, the current NFL scouting corps says ridiculous things like this:

"I just don't know if football is that important to him. He was raised by women, which bothers me. I mean, how tough can he be? It's not his fault, but it's still reality."

On the micro-level, I'm confident that any woman working as a scout would dispel that bullshit right away. More importantly, at the macro-level, if scouts come from different backgrounds, it's a lot less likely that they will, as a group, be as beholden to the same outdated thoughts and resistant to new ideas. Which is not to say that any random woman is naturally more progressively-minded than the current NFL scouts. Just that different kinds of people are far less likely to think similarly.

Of course, there are many fine, open-minded NFL scouts out there already. They're willing to re-examine their own assumptions, and know that the game is changing- as is our understanding of it. They're not all in the smoke-filled backroom. But the good ones need their numbers bolstered. Greater diversity, and specifically, more woman is no guarantee of doing that- but it's a good place to start.