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.

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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.

Female football player has to sit out game

Or her team wouldn’t even get to play:

Why? It wasn’t due to injury. Rather, [Mina] Johnson decided not to play in the [junior high] game after the opposition threatened to forfeit if Johnson was allowed to play. Apparently, Northeast had a problem with its boys playing football against a girl.

I fail to see a good reason for this. Is it because Johnson is at more risk of injury than the boys? I would say she can handle herself:

As the Tidewater News reported, Johnson recorded four sacks in a recent game against Rocky Mount, and was gaining a reputation in the league as a standout junior varsity player.

Or maybe Northeast knows she’s good, so they wanted an edge in the game? I don’t see how that would matter:

So instead of making a fuss about the whole situation, Johnson sat on the sidelines for her team’s 60-0 victory.

There is no good reason for the school to forfeit simply because a girl is playing. If she can compete at the level of the boys, she should be allowed to do so.

I’ve written in the past about my thoughts on women and sports. I’m not about to sit and watch the WNBA, a league where it’s a big deal if someone dunks the ball – I want to watch the best of the best, and when it comes to sports, even the most stubborn feminist knows men dominate there – but that doesn’t mean women should be denied basic opportunities.

Now compounding the issue, another school may threaten to forfeit:

Northeast isn’t the only upcoming opponent considering a forfeit if Johnson doesn’t sit out. Raleigh (N.C.) Word of God Christian Academy is also reportedly considering a forfeit as well; the two schools are scheduled to play a game on Oct. 27.

The official reason for Word of God as well as Northeast is that they have the same athletic association which forbids girls and boys crossing into each others sports. Of course, each school could do the right thing and ignore the rule, or if they want to play by the book, they could seek an exception or review to the rule. But neither has bothered. I’m willing to bet the religious school is more happy about the division than anyone, but it’s horseshit no matter who does it. Let Mina Johnson play.

Why sports matter

Whenever a Boston team does well, my Facebook feed blows up. (I have good friends.) People celebrate, say how happy they are, and cheer on whatever team happens to be playing. When the Bruins recently won the Stanley Cup my feed was full of happy friends. And I certainly contributed to the celebration. It’s something special to see a favorite team win a championship.

But there’s always one or two people who have to be Debbie Downers. One update I saw was pretty typical: ‘It’s just a game, people’ (paraphrased). Or take PZ’s post about the Vancouver riots:

Some team in Canada won the Stanley Cup, which prompted happy revelers to…riot and destroy public property?

He eventually corrected his post to reflect the fact that Vancouver lost (How you like them apples, Luongo?), but such inaccuracy reflects the level of concern PZ has for sports. That particular post doesn’t demonstrate his indifference adequately, but anyone who follows Pharyngula knows PZ is not a sports guy.

And that’s fine. I happen to really enjoy sports – I can watch just about anything that isn’t soccer – but I don’t expect everyone to love them. To each his own, right? But what I don’t like is the dismissal of sports as unimportant.

Let’s go back to that status update. “It’s just a game” is the common refrain of those who believe they have the greatest of perspectives on sports. ‘Why, it’s just men running around trying to score goals or runs or whathaveyou. Who could care about such a thing?’ These people are missing the big picture.

Spending an entire season following a team is an emotional investment. It takes energy and devotion and it can even be draining. It doesn’t matter that it’s other people who are performing the amazing feats. It isn’t important that anyone can watch a grueling hockey game while devouring a pizza. And who cares that people who have never skated or never played an organized game on the diamond or done any of that stuff can follow the action? None of that changes the fact that it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the emotionalism of sports.

And there’s far more than that to it all.

My first professional sports experience was a game at Fenway with my dad in 1999. I didn’t watch sports at that point – which is ironic considering my dad’s occupation as a sports journalist – so I couldn’t appreciate the fact I was seeing Pedro Martinez pitch in one of his Cy Young years – a year when he won the pitching Triple Crown and turned in one of the greatest pitching performances ever. No, I hardly had a grasp on all that, but there was so much more to appreciate. I appreciated the Fenway franks. I appreciated the cheers of the crowd. I appreciate that I saw the Green Monster when it still had its netting (though the seats look great). I appreciate that I sat in a park, which now holds the record for most consecutive sell outs, during a time when it was possible to just show up and buy a ticket on the day of the game with ease. But one of the things I appreciate the most is that my first professional sports experience was with my dad.

It took me some time to realize it, but the point of going to that game was for the sake of the whole experience – father and son. I had asked my dad if I could bring a friend, fearing how much I would enjoy watching a game I didn’t understand. He told me he could only get two tickets, so the answer had to be no. I decided to still go, but it later dawned on me that he had also invited my brother. There had to be a third ticket available. My dad wasn’t just inviting me to a game for the sake of hopefully seeing a Red Sox win. There was a much more important reason he wanted me to go to that game – a reason that would only insult the reader for me to explain any further. (The Red Sox did win, by the way, 7-2 against Anaheim.)

To dismiss any sport as “just a game” is to dismiss all that comes with being a fan. Whether it’s the personal emotional investment – it’s difficult to understand the relief felt by so many Red Sox fans in 2004 – or a family affair, sports are important. They intertwine with the lives of many of us in ways that rise above a casual game of Monopoly or cards. They have an impact on us in ways that are value-heavy and memory-impressing. They have an effect on our lives that give meaningful experiences we often would not – or could not – otherwise have.

Sports matter for their ability to rise above being mere games.

How to be a sports fan

Every time the New England Patriots or the Boston Red Sox are in the limelight, I always see negative Facebook status updates blasting my feed. Sometimes people even blast the Celtics, but I like to think I don’t tend to notice when that happens because people realize basketball is an awful sport run by an even more awful organization at the pro level. (As for the Boston Bruins, well, come on. Most people think hockey is either boring or just fighting. No one really cares about seeing constant action, what with how the hugely successful NFL and NBA are horribly run today – flag, flag, time-out, time-out, flag, gun fight, flag, time-out, dog fight, flag, time-out, time-out, TV time-out!)

Anyway. The reason this all stands out to me is that I’m from Maine. I’m a New Englander. And so are most of my friends. So I expect to see a heavy bias towards New England teams. But instead I have a Dallas fan, apparently Jets fans, Yankees fans, and sometimes just anti-New England teams fans. But are most of these people really good sports fans?

I’ve got to say no. And I think a recent comment in my feed from one real sports fan (who was at Disney World at the time) to another sums it all up:

I saw a guy here with a Lakers shirt, Yankees hat, and a Penguins pin. I wanted to ask if he liked the bandwagon ride at Disney.

That’s what most of these “fans” are: riders on the bandwagon. Very rarely do I see somebody making a spring training status update about how the Oakland A’s or Seattle Mariners are looking in the upcoming season. No, instead I just see people talking about all the teams that have either historically been great or that have recently been great. Hell, of the few hockey fans on my friends list, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a Red Wings base out there – despite no one on my list being from Detroit.

Now, if there was a Red Wings base on my friends list and it was composed of people from near Detroit, it would be a little annoying, but it would also be so refreshing. Finally, some people who give a damn about their location. Because, really, that is the most appropriate basis for becoming a fan. That doesn’t mean everyone from Maine needs to be a Bruins fan or a Red Sox fan. I grew up with a die-hard Yankees lover. But his whole family was from New York. And then he went to NYU. And he loves New York City. I can accept that he likes an organization of assholes. But what does everyone else have to say? I can tell you what: nothing. They aren’t really fans of an organization; they’re just riding the bandwagon. (The worst are the people who like New York teams with no connection to the area. Come on, you jackholes. Of course those are going to historically be the best teams. They have the biggest audience from which to draw, and therefore the most money to spend on the best players. Don’t act like the Yankees are some sort of geniuses when they sign a Teixeira or a Sabathia.)

And yes, some questions spring from the location criteria. What about places with a couple of teams or people who live roughly equal distance from areas with teams? Is it okay to jump on the bandwagon then? Really? You’re asking that? NO. You never jump on the bandwagon. You pick a team based on some rational criteria. For instance, the Mets or the Yankees? Go with which league you like better. Since I don’t like boring baseball that gives an unfair advantage to the pitcher, thereby making every single pitching record just a little hollow, I tend to go with the American League and its designated hitter. But to each his own.

When it comes down to it, I find it impossible to respect a sports fan who praises some team half way across the country simply because that team has done or is doing well.

Women and sports

I read a short opinion piece today that listed a number reasons why women’s sports are not as successful as men’s sports. I am unable to find that article, but this very similar article lists the points:

  • Men form the core of sports fans and they are not watching women’s sports.
  • Women also do not watch.
  • When young, women do not receive enough support and encouragement from friends and family.
  • There is little media coverage.
  • Culture discourages women from entering sports.

The one point that is severely missed here is the most obvious: On the whole, men are better at sports. And people want to watch the best of the best.

I raised this point in an all-female environment and the most prominent counter-argument was that men and women cannot be fairly compared. But of course they can. I can compare any group to any other group if my point is to see which performs better at sports. Ten year olds versus twelve year olds at baseball? The older kids are going to be better on average – they’re bigger, stronger, and faster.

If a woman is able to perform at the level required to play at the professional level of the NHL, MLB, NFL, or NBA, then of course she is going to be signed in a minute. Those leagues are about the sports for the fan, but for the owners, it’s all just a business. If a woman can hit .300, run, throw, and catch, she is going to be playing for an MLB team sooner than later. That’s going to bring in a whole lot of cash.

We’ve seen women break or attempt to break into big time male-dominated sports. Danica Patrick has had a successful career as a driver (though, for the record, neither she nor any of her male colleagues are athletes). Michelle Wie certainly wasn’t stopped from attempting to move from women’s golf to men’s. She got into one men’s tournament and failed to qualify for the PGA tour, but our culture, her past encouragement, a lack of viewers, media coverage, etc, had nothing to do with her inability to compete. The fact is, she is at a competitive disadvantage to men. This is all the more true for sports like football and hockey.

The barrier here is in physical ability, on the whole. We see individual women sometimes succeed because some women can be better than most men at sports – but most men are still better than most women. And more importantly, the top male athletes are better than the top female athletes. Even if we could get rid of all the things that make women less likely to go into sports than men, men are still going to be the top performers because speed, agility, strength, and size are all greatly increased by higher testosterone levels.

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.