For sports fans only

For as long as I’ve had a deep interest in sports beginning in 2005, I’ve been of the opinion that people who don’t watch or follow sports should remain out of the majority of discussions in that area. For instance, after news came out of Joe Paterno’s failure to act at Penn State, people were calling for the school to be stripped of a significant number of wins. That eventually happened, though once everything quieted down, it was reversed. Why? Because the huge number of non-sports fans demanded it. They applied pressure and got a result that made them feel good, but which held zero consideration for all the players, coaches, and staff that had nothing to do with the incident. Non-sports fans wanted to punish an entire school and every individual associated with a huge sports program because of the acts of a few. That was utter horseshit. Plenty of non-sports fans may think that sports are ‘just a game’, but that’s pure ignorance; just because something isn’t important to your life doesn’t mean it therefore isn’t important at all. Fortunately, those who are actually involved in college football saw fit to correct the mistake.16508166_626391204214106_2020830949610527241_n

All that brings me to this recent garbage meme I’ve been seeing about Tom Brady.  On the right side of this post, it includes a quote from media day prior to the Super Bowl. He was asked a couple of questions about Trump and he dodged them. After a third question, he said that he wasn’t going to talk about politics. Somehow this has become an instance of white privilege rather than an example of avoiding irrelevant questions.

There are multiple failings surrounding this meme, but I’ll start off by pointing out the one that’s unique to the ignorant non-sports fan. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are known throughout the league for avoiding distractions as best as they can. This comes from the top of the staff in Belichick. He sets the tone year-in-year-out by giving gruff press conferences where he dismisses shitty, irrelevant questions. We saw it this year when Jimmy Garoppolo did well after his first game and reporters attempted to manufacture a quarterback controversy. After making it clear that Brady was their guy come game 5, Belichick was still asked if Garoppolo would be considered for that start. Belichick simply grumbled “Jesus Christ” and moved on to the next question.

For people who have any idea of what they’re talking about, it’s pretty obvious that Brady’s comment isn’t an example of whatever political or social narrative someone is looking to push. It’s an example of ‘the Patriots way’ (a phrase I’m positive non-sports fans aren’t even remotely familiar with). This is one factor in why this organization has been so successful over the years. Focusing on football creates team cohesion that matters.

Another failing of this embarrassing meme is that it assumes Tom Brady is somehow required to talk about politics. He isn’t. If you tried to force your colleagues into talking politics or religion or sports or whatever topic you cared about despite them telling you they weren’t interested, you’d be hearing from HR pretty soon. You might even get fired. And if you complained that Bob in the next cubicle was a big jerk for not talking immigration with you, you’d get lambasted. Bob deserves to have his wishes to keep his views to himself respected. Why we think non-political celebrities don’t deserve the same respect is beyond me.

And, finally, if Tom Brady focusing on the Super Bowl (that jerk!) wasn’t enough, and if Tom Brady making sure he doesn’t distract the team (what an asshole, amirite?) wasn’t enough, then the fact that he has already made his views clear should be enough. He has said that he has a friendship with Trump that goes back a decade and a half, long before Trump had even significantly waded into politics. He has also pointed out that knowing someone doesn’t mean you agree or disagree with everything they say or do.

So, no, this isn’t an example of white privilege. You don’t know what you’re talking about if you think that; you’re intentionally ignoring context. This is an example of a non-politician staking out a non-political position in an effort to deflect irrelevant and, frankly, inappropriate questions.

Stuart Scott

Every so often an icon emerges in the media. Usually, these people were never meant to be the story. We simply expected them to report the stories. If they did that, we would find ourselves discussing what they had told us, not giving a second thought to where we heard it. That is always good enough. That’s the job. But every so often one of these personalities will shine through the morass. Stuart Scott was one of those people. And now he has died at the age of 49.

Scott had been fighting cancer for the past 7 years. I had no idea this was his third bout with the disease. Hell, I had no idea he was ever even sick. Insofar as this was well-known news (and it was), I managed to miss it. Part of that is sheer chance. I simply didn’t happen to see the news stories. But most of that is because Scott never let it show. Looking back I can see some of the weight fluctuations now, but the strength of his personality always hid whatever physical weakness he may have been experiencing at a given time. He always said to keep fighting – fight, fight, fight – and he lived that. The images and tributes over the past day have made it wildly clear that he was speaking more than mere platitudes. He meant what he said and he lived it entirely.

I only ever mention a celebrity death here once in a great while. Sometimes it’s because I feel bad for the odd life the person had (such as when I mentioned Gary Coleman). Most times, though, it’s because I deeply respected the person (such as with Christopher Hitchens). This is like most times. Stuart Scott stood out as one of the good guys. There are a lot of sportscasters I like and I’ll be sad to hear if any of them die, but Scott’s passing is especially heartbreaking. I wish his family the best.

Here are two videos. One is of Rich Eisen giving his on-air farewell only 10 minutes after hearing of his friend’s death. The other is of Stuart Scott delivering one of the best speeches I’ve heard in a long time.

If you don’t like women’s sports, you therefore also hate women.

At least that was the implication being made by Ashley Miller when she posted this article from The Onion:

SOCHI, RUSSIA—With a dominant 6-1 win over Sweden in Monday’s semifinal, Team USA advanced to the gold medal game of women’s ice—whoa, where the fuck do you think you’re going?

Hold on a minute, you sexist prick. Come back and read this.

After surging ahead thanks to first-period goals from Amanda Kessel, Kacey Bellamy, and—what, did seeing the names Amanda and Kacey already make you want to navigate away from this page? Because sources saw your dismissive, misogynistic bullshit coming a mile away before posting this report about a women’s sporting event, even though it involves a team representing the United States of America at the goddamn Olympics.

According to reports, the U.S. will be favorites against longtime rivals Canada in Thursday’s final, and why don’t you just park your ass right where it is for 10 more seconds, because reading 300 words about a talented team of female athletes on the verge of Olympic gold isn’t going to kill you.

C’mon, you honestly think sources can’t see right through you, you chauvinistic fuck?

Speaking to reporters following her impressive one-goal, two-assist performance against Sweden, U.S. forward Brianna Decker said—well, do you really want to know what she said? Or are you just going to ignore it like you do every story related to the LPGA, the WNBA, women’s tennis, and the U.S. women’s soccer team? Sources also apologize that this page doesn’t contain images of female hockey players wearing bikinis, because Lord knows that sort of crap would keep your attention.

Reports went on to confirm that this shit you’re pulling right here is exactly why women struggle to make a living as professional athletes.

At press time, you certainly didn’t make it this far into the story, so just forget it. You fucking pig.

Presumably, The Onion’s point here is to say that people who don’t like women’s sports are like that for misogynistic reasons, but I could see a few other interpretations, albeit less likely ones. In the case of Miller, though, when she posted this on her Facebook page last week, she was clearly cheering it on as not only a feminist, but as a fan of women’s (and men’s, for that matter) soccer.

Of course, the article is entirely incoherent and clearly not written by a sports fan that thinks much about sports in the first place. Here’s what I wrote about women and sports over 3 years ago:

I just wish we could all be a little honest. Men, on the whole, are better at sports than women, on the whole. We have these systems that rely on the ability to perform to a certain level – most runs, most points, most goals. And the best male athletes are going to be able to reach these levels better than the best female athletes. This is a big reason why women’s sports flounder. Is this so wrong? I really have no desire to watch a basketball league where it is big news that one of its players managed to actually dunk. (This really was big news for the WNBA a year or two ago.) So we can’t just give a blanket blame to society and culture and biases and discrimination, even if all those things might play a role. Sports are about top performance. If a woman can compete with the best men, great. But she’s the exception, not the rule.

As a sports fan, I almost always want to watch the best of the best. (My one exception is college hockey during the Frozen Four, provided Maine is one of those four, but even then I’ll choose to watch something else from time to time.) The fact is, women’s sports do not feature the best players out there. That’s why there is a separate league in the first place. Indeed, I think there’s a good chance any final 16 NCAA men’s basketball team could beat any WNBA team. Not that I’m a fan of NCAA basketball (nor even the NBA), but the point is a valid one: in general, men are better at sports than women. Even two of the top female tennis players – the Williams sisters – were only willing to claim they could beat any men outside the top 200 in world rankings. (They played a guy ranked around 203 or 204, each losing to him in an exhibition match when they were teenagers.) But perhaps my point would be better made with video. First up is a video of uncontested warm-up dunks prior to a WNBA All-Star game:

Notice that some of the women were barely able to reach the rim. Now here is LeBron James from last week’s All-Star game (which may as well be uncontested):

I don’t think it’s so crazy (or sexist) to say which one of those was far more exciting. And just imagine if we could extend these highlights to other sports. Who would you rather see hit a baseball, David Ortiz or a female player who would struggle to reach the Mendoza line in the MLB? The answer is clear to any rational sports fan, but Ashley Miller is not a rational sports fan. (It shouldn’t surprise anyone that she’s on FreeThought Blogs.) As a result of me posting similar videos on her post praising The Onion’s article, she blocked me. This was probably in part cumulative since I had recently criticized her Internet investigating of Woody Allen where she effectively said guilty until proven innocent should be the default stance concerning anyone accused of any sort of sexual misconduct. (I wonder how many of Miller’s supporters would believe me if I said she had asked me for “coffee” in an elevator. Methinks ‘innocent until proven guilty’ would make a rapid comeback.) None-the-less, this sort of echo-chamber blocking is pretty characteristic of the people associated with FreeThought Blogs and atheism+. Quite the movement they have there.

(One last point on Miller: She quoted and blogged about a Facebook response of mine to something she posted. She did not message me or tag me in anything on Facebook. She didn’t even bother to link to my blog from her blog. I happened to see her post on my feed. Then on that post when someone responded to me in a way she liked, she made it a point to politely ask if she could quote that person in one place or another. Go ahead and quote me, fine, but have the decency to let me know. This is about par for FreeThought Blog ethics. We’ve seen a similar mindset with ringleader PZ Myers who refuses to help a person with whom he disagrees, even if the point of help matters to him. Nope, too bad, he disagrees with you on other things, so principles don’t matter. Yet when he makes third-party accusations about Michael Shermer and the great Ken White offers to help Myers find counsel, Myers has no problem accepting the assistance. Why, who cares that Ken White thinks I’m an attention whore who treats complex situations like they’re cartoons?! Principles! How convenient.)

But I digress. It’s utterly ridiculous to claim that the reason women’s sports do so poorly is because everyone just hates women. No. Professional female athletes just aren’t the best of the best. It’s entirely possible for a women’s hockey game to be entertaining, and I don’t fault anyone who happens to like watching that type of competitiveness, but that’s not what most sports fans want. What we want is a high class of athletics. If there comes a day that a female baseball player can hit .300 in the majors, then every baseball fan will love watching her hit. But until then, let me see Big Papi hit an opposite-field shot over the Green Monster.

It’s more than a game

I’ve said it several times in the past, but it always bears repeating: A sporting event is more than just a game. Maybe it isn’t more than that to you. Maybe you don’t care at all. That’s fine. But that doesn’t mean sports don’t matter or that they aren’t important. Here’s an article from just after the Red Sox finally won the World Series in 2004 after an 86 year drought:

Such pilgrimages to the deceased, common after the Red Sox conquered the Yankees in the ALCS, were repeated throughout the graveyards of New England. The totems changed, but the sentiments remained the same. At Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, for instance, gravestones were decorated with Red Sox pennants, hats, jerseys, baseballs, license plates and a hand-painted pumpkin.

So widespread was the remembrance of the deceased that several people, including Neil Van Zile Jr. of Westmoreland, N.H., beseeched the ball club to issue a permanent, weatherproof official Red Sox grave marker for dearly departed fans, similar to the metal markers the federal government provides for veterans. (Team president Lucchino says he’s going to look into it, though Major League Baseball Properties would have to license it.) Van Zile’s mother, Helen, a Sox fan who kept score during games and took her son to Game 2 of the 1967 World Series, died in 1995 at 72.

“There are thousands of people who would want it,” Van Zile says. “My mom didn’t get to see it. There isn’t anything else I can do for her.”

This was a common sight throughout Boston and surrounding areas. After the Sox made their improbable comeback that fall, people filled the local cemeteries, visiting the sites of their loved ones who never got to see their team win it all.

That sounds like more than a game to me.

What happened to Chris Kluwe isn’t about sports

Former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe has been very active in supporting marriage equality over the past year or two. He has written multiple articles, given speeches, donated money, and been consistently outspoken. This is unusual for the NFL. Aside from many of the players, coaches, and other personnel coming from conservative backgrounds, the 4 major sports leagues in the US (go to hell, soccer) aren’t known for embracing controversy, especially on the team level. Of course there are always scandals, from spying on other teams to steroids to affairs to whatever else, but no one except the media enjoys any of this. Teams seek to minimize these dramas since they simply serve as distractions. That isn’t to say Kluwe’s support for equality and basic human decency is unjustified – it’s 100% justified, actually – but it was bound to ruffle some feathers. Kluwe believes those displaced feathers are why he no longer has a job:

It’s my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by [Coach] Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn’t agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter. (Frazier was fired on Monday, at the conclusion of a 5-10-1 season.) One of the main coaching points I’ve heard throughout my entire life is, “How you respond to difficult situations defines your character,” and I think it’s a good saying. I also think it applies to more than just the players.

I’m inclined to believe Kluwe, not because I’m sympathetic to his claim, but because all the details he provides in his article – go read it – add up to him being fired for his views: his coach was consistently hostile towards him, the team didn’t ask him about his progress recovering from surgery, they didn’t attempt to renegotiate his contract, and his 2012 numbers were comparable to his admirable career averages. That forces me to conclude that this wasn’t about sports at all. A few bad apples sought to get rid of the noisy guy, but keep in mind: that noise was off-field. While these things can be a distraction, that wasn’t particularly the case here. The team’s front office got a few media phone calls, but that was about it. Compare that with the media-storm surrounding Tim Tebow. No one complained about him being a distraction. The difference? His noise was mainstream and approved.

I write about this because I want to be sure people see this for what it is: two cowards and a bigot acting against a guy with whom (at least) the bigot disagreed. I popped over to PZ Myers’ site and found this article; whereas Myers has never been a fan of sports or understood any dynamic about sports culture, one should expect his view to not only be skewed, but to also be invalid. This same is true of any non-sports fan who writes about this. Don’t listen to them. Even if they completely agree with whatever ESPN is saying about the issue or even if they agree with what I’ve been saying, ignore them. If they are right, it isn’t because they know what the hell they’re talking about. If they’re right it’s out of sheer luck. Stick to the sports outlets and fans for your sports news and discussions.

Football is not a sudden death sport

I like when I get to talk about unfair rules or bad refereeing when the team I like comes out on top. I don’t have to worry about losing credibility because I’m a sore loser or whathaveyou; it was a relief to me when the Patriots won their overtime game against the Jets.

Here’s my problem with the NFL rules for OT: The team that wins the coin toss has a huge advantage. It used to be that the game would end with whoever scored first, thus meaning the team to get the ball first would almost always win on a cheap field goal. The owners finally voted to change that two years ago, but they half assed the job. They made it so the game would continue if the first team scored a field goal, but it would end in sudden death if that team scored a touchdown (or, it would end if the other team scored a touchdown). That’s still plainly unfair. As it so happens, the Patriots scored a field goal, thus giving the Jets a chance to respond. QB Sanchez then, as I expected, failed to get the job done. The game turned out to be fair, but only by chance. Had the Patriots scored a TD on their first possession, the game would have ended and the Jets never would have been given a chance. Again, that’s not fair.

There are certain games that lend themselves to sudden death overtime. Hockey, for instance, is perfect for it. (In fact, hockey is the perfect sport, but I digress.) Soccer, insofar as it is a sport, works for the model. Football, however, does not. There is no point where both the defense and offense of a single team find themselves on the field at the same time. It would be as if a baseball game went into extra innings, the away team scored a run in the top of the 10th, and then the umpires called the game. That would be ludicrous for the very reason the NFL overtime rules are ludicrous: There are two primary aspects to the teams involved. To think of it another way, imagine how many teams have won the Superbowl with okay defense and great offense. Now ask yourself, if that team was forced to rely upon just its defense, who would have won the game?

I don’t expect the NFL to fix this flaw because, well, look at the garbage they pulled with the refs. And look at the guy they have running the whole show. It isn’t like this is an organization that’s hellbent on making things right or hiring the best personnel to fix these obvious problems. But who knows. Maybe in 15 years we’ll see some updates that actually take reality into consideration.

Catch up

My blogging has slowed a little bit, so I haven’t been keeping up on a few stories. I’m going to quickly mention a few topics here.

First, California has recently passed a law which bans gay conversion therapy. This is a good thing not only for gay people and the way the public perceives them, but it’ also a good thing for science. As the governor correctly stated, such therapies are nothing but quackery.

Second, it has been awhile since Mitt Romney made his comment about 47% of Americans not paying taxes and feeling entitled to government handouts. I’m usually pretty cautious about jumping all over politicians for the missteps they make. For instance, when Romney said he doesn’t care about the very poor, it isn’t difficult for me to recognize that he meant his focus is on preventing people in the middle class from needing to utilize government safety nets. In turn, he hopes that that (as well as corporate welfare and the like) will help out the very poor. This, however, is different. There is no spinning what he meant in the secret video of him: He believes nearly half of all Americans are lazy moochers who don’t want to take personal responsibility.

Third, I made a post a little while ago where I said I was calling this NFL season as invalid. The replacement referees were horrible – an opinion I held before the Seattle/Green Bay game. There was just no way that the outcome of any game could be considered legitimate. I stand by all that. Even though the real refs are back in place, we still had 3 weeks where teams were getting screwed because Roger Goodell is the worst person in all of sports. Three weeks may not sound like a lot, but it would be as if Major League Baseball replaced its umpires with unqualified people for about 30 games. It’s a huge chunk of the season. For that, there is nothing valid about the entire 2012 NFL season – even if my beloved Patriots win the Super Bowl.