A lot of you know I'm a sports fan. And a lot of you have probably gathered through reading the blog, or spending time with me, that I appreciate smart people.
If you're not listening to Colin Cowherd's show The Herd, give it a go. It runs from 10am to 1pm Eastern on ESPN Radio (that's 97.7 FM if you're in CNY). You don't need to be a sports fan. Seriously.
Cowherd tackles his subject from a very honest place. He understands that he works at a large company, one owned by Disney. He also understands that he works for one of the few successful cable channels out there, the top sports channel out there, and that his company gives him three hours every weekday on national radio because he's smart and he's confident in his views.
So if he thinks his company screwed something up, he'll tell you.
And that extends elsewhere. If he thinks the NFL screwed something up, he'll tell you.
If he think you screwed something up, he'll tell you.
He doesn't take idiocy well. If you call into the show, you'd better be smart or entertaining, or prepare to be hung up on and ridiculed on air.
And he enjoys having people on the show who aren't just known for sports, like Mark Cuban (whom you might know from the TV show "Shark Tank" and other ventures outside of his ownership of the Dallas Mavericks) and on occasion someone like Malcolm Gladwell.
If you're not a sports fan, give him 10 minutes one day and 10 minutes another day here and there; his job is sports, but I think you'll learn something way beyond that industry.
When I was in high school, there were two factions with regard to Nike. In one, you might shoot someone or get shot for a pair of Air Jordans. In the other, you wouldn't touch a pair of Nikes and you wrote letters to headquarters about their overseas labor practices.
There wasn't much in between.
Once we got past that time, Nike got beyond their corporate reputation and focused on their branding. They had some pretty cool ads for a while, but then they did something I love: messaging.
Like in the Michael Jordan failure ad.
Jordan isn't exactly someone we associate with failure.
"Find your greatness" is a no-brainer with the Olympics. Olympic athletes are great, and one of my favorite things about the Olympics is the ability for me to watch sports I don't get to see often. Handball. Water polo. That kind of stuff.
Great athletes play those sports, and while they might be as athletic as Michael Jordan, they'll never reach his level of fame, wealth or just general ubiquity.
With that, though, is a series of ads featuring regular people finding their own greatness. Like an overweight 12-year-old from London, Ohio, trying to drop some pounds getting into jogging.
While I see a lot of athletes in my day-to-day life (pro athletes, people who run marathons and do triathlons for fun like it's their life), more than two-thirds of the people I see are like Nathan.
They're finding their own greatness.
Let's be clear, too, that this isn't just about sport, it's about life. Your greatness is within reach, you just have to find it.
I love the Olympics. But I have to say this season, I'm hating the coverage.
It doesn't even have to do with NBC running a really dumb Ryan Seacrest interview with Michael Phelps instead of showing the 7/7 tribute during the opening ceremonies.
It has to do with a few things:
(1) Tape delays. Yes, I know that the ratings aren't bearing me out on this one. We know what happened because the results are available, but people are still watching a lot in prime time anyway. My guess on this is that people are just going to watch the Olympics anyway; it doesn't matter what they show. But if I know who won the race or the game, I don't really need to see it.
(2) The stories. I know, they're aimed at getting more female and youth viewers. But I'm into sports. That's what I want to watch.
(3) Picking the sports. NBC is primarily showing sports that Americans are involved in, getting medals in, or likely to win medals in. But there's a whole lot of great sport going on that we're not seeing. We get a lot of swimming and gymnastics and volleyball (don't get me wrong, I love volleyball), but not a lot of handball (which looks like a lot of fun) and badminton and soccer.
Coverage has been so widely disliked, there's a popular Twitter hashtag at #NBCFail. It's popular enough that it's getting advertising from international businesses like Mitsubishi.
Worse, it's probably about the money, not just questionable judgment. NBC dropped something like $2 billion to show the next few Olympics – in an age when more and more people are watching on mobile devices.
What do I want to see? Stuff I can't see all the time. I want fencing, handball, and the ability to pull up whatever I want whenever I want and watch it live without guest commentary from sports celebrities like Ryan Seacrest. Wait, what? Yeah, why is he even in the mix? NBC actually has sports guys, and Seacrest is doing the Olympics?
The NCAA does a lot of stupid things with regard to punishing college sports programs for rules violations. Take, for example, punishing Ohio State because some of its student athletes accepted tattoos as gifts.
In case you've been living under a rock, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted of 40-something counts of diddling little boys, and late (legendary) head coach Joe Paterno, the school's athletic director and presidents were implicated by an independent investigator as having covered up the crimes (as in, someone caught Sandusky molesting a child, went to his superiors, and they basically said, no we're not going to the authorities with this; it'd be bad for Penn State football).
There was a due process thing going on with Sandusky, he's never going to see the outside of a jail cell, his victims are going to continue getting whatever help they've needed and now that he's been convicted, some of them will probably sue the school.
The NCAA, which doesn't usually go after crimes – just programs violating its rules – came down really hard on Penn State. There's a $60 million fine involved (that money will be paid over five years to an independent program that works to prevent child abuse). The school is going to lose some football scholarships. They won't be eligible for post-season play for a few years. And every win they've had since 1998 is vacated (which is a weird thing the NCAA likes to do). Additionally, the players on Penn State's roster can transfer schools without penalty (typically, transferring students have to sit out a year while they get acclimated academically).
This means that Penn State's going to have a tough time recruiting top players the next few years, their current good players are going to leave, and essentially the football program is going in the toilet for the next decade or so.
There's a lot of collateral damage, too: football is a financial driver for other sports (you don't think fencing brings in enough revenue to pay for its scholarships, do you?); merchandise sales are probably going to dip if the team stinks; local businesses will suffer if people aren't going to games because the team stinks.
The NCAA claims that they want to change the culture that football is king and that the safety of the community should come first. I'm calling bullshit on the reasoning – if the NCAA stopped cashing in big on college football, they could play holier-than-thou, but that's not going to happen – but here's why I don't have a problem with the punishment:
Because of the cover-up (not Sandusky's crimes), the football program that was being presented to recruits, parents, fans and media was different from the program that really existed.
Let me say it again.
The program being sold was a lie.
If you're the parent of a four-star recruit, are you letting your 17-year old go to place where you know the assistant coach might fondly your kid in the shower? Hell no.
If you're an honors student involved as a volunteer in child welfare organizations considering Penn State, are you going to a school where the high-profile football program is destroying kids' lives and covering it up so you can make more money? Hell no.
As a football program and as a university, Penn State gained so much from the cover-up that only a forced culture change could get the community on the road to healing. And that's what the NCAA did.
No doubt Paterno did a lot of good for the university, by the way. Taking down his statue may have been cathartic, but for all the evil he did in the cover-up, he also put a lot of money back into the university, ponying up enough to put his name on the library. Time's going to heal his legacy, even if taking away 111 wins from his record moves him from first to 12th or 13th on the all-time wins list.
The wheels in my head got to turning early Friday morning. I'm excited about the possibilities of this, so I thought I'd write something up, see what you people think, and see if you have any ideas for me as to who needs to be involved from an administration level.
What started me thinking was Sean Kirst's column, which includes a bit about losing kids who started in youth baseball to the streets after they got priced out of playing. Sean told me in an email that sometimes the leagues just eat the sign-up fees for some kids in that situation, but I happen to know from playing in softball leagues that those sign-up fees help maintain the fields; I've played in enough of those leagues to know who is using the money for maintenance and who's using the money for repairs, and if the city is getting less money from sign-up fees in some neighborhoods than in others, guess whose fields are going to crap?
We first need to be honest with ourselves about youth opportunities in Syracuse. This goes way beyond Say Yes and the fact that anyone can benefit from an education and take that to stellar heights in a career. That's true. But. If you're the sort of kid who loves baseball and your family is in a position that financially they can't sign you up for little league, your income level is such that there are times your parents are making choices between feeding you, feeding themselves, paying rent, paying the electric bill and so on. You can't work until you're 16, and even then, another 20 hours a week at minimum wage isn't going to help all that much – and let's be honest, if you're working 20 hours a week, school is suffering.
There's an easy decision to be made, and that's why a lot of kids wind up on the street, running guns and drugs. It's not that they're lazy, it's that they're actually trying to help, and this is an obvious way to make a big impact on your family's financial future.
The Future Fund just gave a $5,000 grant to The Media Unit, a group that writes and performs pieces about issues facing underserved youth in the city, and the group has most definitely helped a lot of people; we hope that grant will help them grow and help more people.
Baseball's another way through. Keep kids playing, get them into college on a baseball scholarship. Awesome. But first we have to get them into those leagues. That got me thinking about an indiegogo campaign. You might know about indiegogo as the tool someone is using to raise money for Karen Klein, the Greece, NY, bus monitor who last week was seen on YouTube being tormented by kids on her bus. At this writing, a campaign started to raise $5,000 for a nice vacation for her has raised over $620,000.
At indiegogo, you put a goal on your campaign. If you hit your goal, indiegogo takes 4% for using their platform; if you don't, they take 9%. Those are definitely reasonable fees.
What if we started a fund there? It could be administered by some little league activists, someone at the city, someone at the Chiefs, or by another organization who just wants to show their support. Would you give $10 or $50 or $100 to such a fund to keep some kids in youth sports?
American football is, without a doubt, the biggest money-making sport there is.
Auto racing is among the most popular.
Soccer – or football to the rest of the non-American world – is another of the most popular.
But people seem to have something against baseball. It's not just some people; it's a lot of them. It's boring, they say. Too slow. If, as an offensive player, you fail at your job 7 out of 10 opportunities, you're a sure-fire hall-of-famer.
In fact, the notion that a person can actually play baseball well offensively is just ridiculous (and as a culture, Americans are offensive-minded). Someone throws a ball from 60.5 feet away, often in the 90mph range. The ball moves based on the spin, and it's your job as a batter to take an instrument that's about 32 inches long and, at its thickest, about the width of the ball. There are eight people in front of the batter and one immediately behind attempting to stop the batter from succeeding. Seriously. Ridiculous.
Baseball's a different sort of sport. Endurance is important: in roughly six months, there are about 18-20 days off, including weekends. There's a lot of travel.
And there's very little predictability.
Johan Santana pitched a no-hitter last night. It's not an unheard-of feat. In fact, it's the third one in the major leagues this year. But he threw 134 pitches, which is a whole lot; this time of the year, many starting pitchers are just starting to be allowed to throw 90 to 100 pitches before they're pulled for worry that they'll hurt their arm. Santana threw 50% more pitches than he might have been allowed, and he still got batters to fail every time they were up.
He may not pitch well at all the rest of the year. Like I said, little predictability.
But there is some predictability.
Baseball people are numbers people. There are so many numbers measured and available that even an average manager could predict within a few feet where one particular fielder should play based on who is pitching, the type of playing surface, the time of day, the weather and what color jerseys his team is wearing. Change one of those factors (well, except the jersey color), and the same fielder could reasonably be moved 40 feet and the manager would still be correct.
I think few people (yes, some, but still, few) would argue with sitting in the sun on a quiet afternoon, the smell of freshly cut grass, hot dogs on the grill and a cold beer in hand. And outdoors, that's exactly what baseball is. And with a lack of predictability, there's always the chance that attending a baseball game means you're going to see something amazing happen.
During the summer of 2010, as basketball fans waited for a really big free agent season to pan out, the Miami Heat re-signed their star Dwyane Wade, and in a moment of managerial genius, managed to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh – all three at discounts so they could afford to have two other starters and a bench and still be under the salary cap.
Here's how they were introduced.
Flashy and exciting, sure. There hadn't been a starting three like that since...well, since any team ever, I guess.
But it started with James – a lifelong Cleveland resident, who signed with the Cleveland team out of high school and bought a modest home in Cleveland, saying this: "I'm taking my talents to South Beach."
That's an actual quote.
Remember back in 1980s when parents slammed Charles Barkley for his I am not a role model ad? You know, because kids looked – and still look – up to sports stars as role models.
While I still find myself drawn to sport – I love watching a good contest in almost any sport – I've had a real hard time with the culture lately.
Also: Get off my lawn.
Maybe I'm just getting old and cranky.
But how can you like a guy with an attitude like James had (I understand why he signed elsewhere – he definitely had a raw deal in Cleveland, where he was expected to be a one-man team)? He held a prime-time press conference to announce his decision. That's when coaches found out, too. And the way he said it? Argh.
And the way the Heat introduced Wade, James and Bosh, as though they were guaranteeing a championship? In a few years, a lot of us are going to forget it was the Dallas Mavericks who won the 2011 NBA title. We'll just know it wasn't Miami.
Last night in baseball, there were four games played to determine the final two playoff spots. Three of those games ended in dramatic fashion. That's why I still love baseball, and why I still love sport.
You know what else happened in baseball yesterday? Jose Reyes came into what might have been his final game in a Mets uniform. He's been much-loved by fans, and I'm sure some of them came out to watch him compete for the National League batting title, which he was leading by three points coming into the game.
In the first inning, Reyes bunted for a single and promptly took himself out of the game, so as not to risk losing points off his batting average.
He won the batting crown, but probably disappointed a fair number of people by not playing the full game.
70 years ago, Ted Williams went into the final day of the season – one on which the Red Sox were scheduled to play two games – with a batting average of exactly .400, which is, to be sure, a milestone.
He could have sat out and finished the season secure in the knowledge that he hit .400, without risking his average. But if he was going to have a .400 average, he said he was going to have it for the whole season.
He had six hits in eight at-bats during the double-header, finishing the season with an average of .406 – the last time anyone finished a complete season with an average of .400 or higher.
One of those two is a role model, the other is squeaking by on minimal effort. (Not to take anything away from Reyes' talent, just his character.)
Early in the NFL season, we're talking about teams faking injuries to slow down a fast-moving offensive strategy. Want to know how to better defend against a fast offense? Get fitter.
Maybe it's the money, I don't know. But the culture of sports has changed a lot.
Assault City Roller Derby started off their home season skating lights out this year. It's like an entirely different team, and I hope the winning helps them pick up some popularity. There are already lots of reasons I love derby (more), but to see the home team winning? Awesome.
That's a good video up there, but for those who need to read, here's a basic look at how flat track roller derby is played.
A bout is 60 minutes long, divided into two, 30-minute halves. Each "play" is called a jam, and is timed to a maximum of two minutes.
A standard jam includes five skaters from each team, lined up in a 1-3-1 formation. One skater from each team sets the pace from the front, with the middle six skaters (three from each team) making up the pack. The final skater from each team, called the "jammer," starts several seconds after the rest of the pack.
The jammer's goal is to get through the pack without skating out of bounds. Skaters in the pack have two goals: (1) get their jammer through, and (2) stop the other team's jammer from getting through. This is where the jostling, hip checks, booty blocks and other nastiness fun happens.
Once the jammer gets through the pack, she must skate around the track, and then scores points for her team by skating cleanly past skaters from the other team (by cleanly, I mean staying in-bounds). Thus, if she makes it through the pack a second time, she'll have past four members of the other team, scoring four points. Any skater, including the jammer, knocked out of bounds, must come in-bounds behind the skater who knocked her out.
The first jammer through the pack has the ability to end a jam before two minutes have passed. She might do this so that the other team is unable to score.
There are, of course, penalties and strategies, but them's the basics, and if you're watching a bout, that's what you're seeing.
Each year, as the Super Bowl comes and goes, I find myself hiding behind my shovel for two months until Opening Day of baseball season. Fortunately for me, this year, those months have been full of a weight loss challenge that has seen me lose over 20 pounds with another five weeks to go, so at least I'm focused on food and exercise instead of how. dull. mid-season. NBA. basketball. is.
Even with the Celtics dominating the Heat this year, in a year Miami was supposedly staring at the possibility of a 75-win season (ha!).
But the Red Sox open their spring training schedule on Sunday, and head to Texas to open the regular season on April 1 (first series against the Yankees is at Fenway beginning April 8). Hopefully everyone will stay healthy this year; last season the majority of the starting lineup was injured at the same time (and we're not talking hangnails – these guys don't pitch in the Bronx).
And so it follows that, despite the snow we're getting in Central New York as I type this, the grass will be green soon, the sun will be warm, and another season will be upon us.
While it won't be to see the Red Sox, I'll be at Fenway this year (for the first time since 1994), when the Syracuse Chiefs head to Boston for Futures Day, a double-header featuring two of Boston's minor league affiliates. If you're in the Boston area in August, let me know.
I'm not one for resolutions. Well, I was last year and year before, but it turns out I didn't look back on them at all, make the goals and track them. So I'm looking at this young calendar year, and figuring out what it's going to be.
2010 was a year of upheaval – and let's make it clear that upheaval isn't all bad. I have found a life partner with whom I share a mutual love, support and respect I've never known. For the first time in my life, I've landed in a job I love at a company whose product I am 100% behind. And for the first time since I moved from my parents' house, I'm in a residence I'm not likely to be leaving anytime soon. So 2011 is going to be a year of stability.
It's also going to be a year of passions renewed.
My dad and I were voracious baseball memorabilia collectors when I was a kid. We would go to card shows at least monthly, I would trade cards with the neighborhood kids, and we were involved in a Strat-O-Matic league.
My parents have started their transition to retirement (it'll be a several-year process, likely), and that includes leaving behind my childhood home. I'm inheriting the collection of cards and publications, and I've started doing some inventory. The publications start in the 1950s (with a couple sporadically before then) and continue into the 2000s; while I haven't seen all the cards yet, they appear to end right around 1990, which is when I entered high school.
So I'm figuring out what's what, and I'm picking that collection back up. I'll fill any holes in the sets, and start looking at what's up in the community these days (I see Donruss has been bought and Fleer is out of business, but that was a quick couple of minutes of not-quite-research).
I've always been a reader, but here it is January 5, and I've started my third book of the year. I've finished Kaaron Warren's Slights and read Elmore Leonard's Riding the Rap, and I've started Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room!
I think there will be some re-reading this year, too – Carlos Ruis Zafon's Shadow of the Wind is on my read-again-soon list, and since I'm already reading a dystopic novel (the Harrison), I'm likely to want to re-read any or all of Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange.
I know exercise, fitness and weight loss are on a lot of people's lists. But I'm working at a gym (which means I really have no excuse not to go), I'm already in the midst of some personal training, and on Saturday, I start an intensive weight loss competition.
I'll still be playing tennis and, as spring and summer approach, softball; I'm just hoping to be in better shape.
I'm also planning to do more volunteer work, more fundraising, and continue to be active in the community. By the way, in case you were wondering, these are the organizations I supported in 2010, in case you're looking for causes this year: