Charles Barkley was right: The decline of sport as a noble endeavor

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.

Get. Off. My. Lawn.

Assault City Roller Derby Announces June Double Header

On Saturday, June 11th, Assault City Roller Derby will once again bring the excitement and action of women’s flat-track roller derby back to the Greater Baldwinsville Ice Arena. In a double-header against Central New York Roller Derby, ACRD’s Assault Squad will take on the CNY All-Stars, and ACRD’s Battery Brigade will face off against the Rome Wreckers. Doors will open at 4:30 PM, and the Assault Squad bout will begin at 5 PM, with the Battery Brigade bout to follow. Both ACRD teams won their bouts last month, and the teams are looking to repeat their success in this double header.

» ACRD wins double header (photos), plus Derby 101

The bout features live halftime entertainment by Born Again Rebels, and $1 of every ticket sold will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Central New York. Presale general admission tickets are $10 each and presale front line tickets are $20 each. Reduced price children’s tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased at TicketLeap.com or at Black Mamba Skate Park in Shoppingtown Mall. Tickets will also be available at the door the day of the event for $12 for general admission and $22 for front line. After the bout, fans can join the derby girls for food and drinks at Sharkey's Eclectic Sports Lounge in Liverpool, NY.

ACRD is an all-women’s flat track roller derby league consisting of working mothers, professionals, wives, and students, ranging in age from 21 to 45. Their goal is to help local communities and promote women’s empowerment. Since its inception in late 2007, Assault City has competed on the road in Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, and Ohio as well as throughout Upstate New York. For additional information about ACRD, please visit www.assaultcityrollerderby.com.

Assault City Roller Derby Opens Skating Lights Out. Plus: Derby 101 for Fans

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.

» Derby in the context of a skater's life

Roller Derby 101

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.

Is it April yet?

» Training professional athletes is not different from training YOU

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.

Inhale.

[ stability ] + [ passion ]

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.

Baseball memorabilia

Roger Clemens rookie cardMy 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).

Reading

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.

Exercise

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:

Central New York Community Foundation
WRVO
40 Below
Syracuse First
Alchemical Nursery
St. Baldrick's
St. Jude

Photo Credits:
• 1985 Topps Roger Clemens baseball card by Tommy Duchniki on Flickr
• Books by Phing on Flickr
• Weights by rick on Flickr

Cressey Performance

One of the cool new things I've found at work in reading fitness blogs and seeing what's up in the industry is a blog by Eric Cressey, who runs Cressey Performance, a Boston training center.

Cressey Performance is known for training pro (and, I imagine college and amateur) baseball players – particularly pitchers – and many of you know I'm a baseball nerd.

Cressey, who doesn't have a baseball background, fell into this niche entirely by accident. His own journey through fitness and mobility led him to be passionate about the field, and eventually his location and his methods caught on in the baseball world. Read his story the way he tells it. I haven't read too many career path stories that interest me, but his does.

To feed the baseball nerds among my readers (I'm looking at you especially, Tom and Mitch), check out what pitchers do during the off-season.

Two Weeks With the Vibram FiveFingers

For the last couple of weeks, I've been sporting a pair of Vibram FiveFingers TrekSport. I tend to get mid-foot and rear-foot pain (my plantar and my heal) once tennis season starts, and since I started standing much of my day and working out four or more times a week, it's been getting worse.

A couple of trainers and a massage therapist recommended them to me, so I thought I'd try them out. I went over to Fleet Feet (which I can't recommend enough, by the way, in terms of professional knowledge and personal attention) and gave them a try.

They take some time to put on the first time (I also tried the Bikila, which have a harder top, making them even more difficult to put on), and they feel odd, since our toes don't tend to spend much time spread out.

The point of the shoes is to make your body operate essentially like you're barefoot. There's no ankle support nor arch support, and depending on the model, there is varying amount of tread (the TrekSport has a really good tread on it, and I'm not worried about slipping on anything). They're machine washable (but not machine dry-able, since rubber melts), which is pretty awesome, too. I've noticed a bunch of things.

Standing posture. I'm standing more on the ball of my feet, like I do when I'm barefoot at home. Doing that eliminates a lot of slouching, since that would throw me off balance. It means I'm standing up straighter.

Walking. I don't love walking in them, but I don't mind. I tend to be a careless, wandering walker, and with these shoes, I need to be a little more careful about what I'm stepping on and how I'm landing. Which is probably a good thing, just it's a lifestyle change – a pretty big one, it turns out.

Running. They change my whole running style, which for me was the primary thing I was seeking. The sports I play (tennis, racquetball, softball) require short, quick bursts from a standstill, along with changing direction. I'm running more front-foot and mid-foot now instead of rear-foot, which means that the optimal starting posture is something of a squat. And if you're standing up and figuring out what I'm talking about, you're recognizing that the start comes from your glutes (your butt), rather than from your quads and knees, which is where the initial push comes from if you're starting on your heal. Strictly speaking, I'm a little faster, my foot's in less pain, and I'm working on building up my glutes, because, to be crass about it, my ass cheeks were sore for the first three or four days.

Machines. I don't mind these on the stationary bike, but I don't like them on treadmills (even walking) or other elliptical-style machines. I feel like I want more ankle support. I tend to prefer the bike and running on the track anyway.

Reaction. Some people hate these things. Mostly they're people who understand, from an athletic perspective, why one would wear them, but who have an aesthetic dislike for them. Fair enough. Then there are the people who have actually stopped me in stores to ask about what's on my feet. This is cool, as long as you're not in a hurry.

Recommendation

If you're thinking about getting a pair (or 2 or 3 – they have a bunch of models with varying purposes), first decide what they would do for you, then consult people who understand those things. Go to a local shop and try them out. In Syracuse, Fleet Feet even has a treadmill they'll let you hop on (in fact, if you've never been before, or haven't been in a while, they'll put you on the treadmill to see how you run).

Assault City announces first-ever international bout

A press release from Crazy Diamond at Assault City Roller Derby.

***

Syracuse, NY – Assault City Roller Derby is pleased to announce its first-ever international bout at the Greater Baldwinsville (Lysander) Ice Arena in Baldwinsville, NY, on Saturday, August 21st. Assault City will take on the Tri-City Roller Girls of Ontario, Canada. Doors open at 6 PM and the bout starts at 7 PM. There will be refreshments, music, halftime entertainment and loads of excitement. This is also ACRD’s last home bout of the 2010 season.

Presale general admission tickets are $10 each while a limited number of front line tickets are $20 each. Reduced price children’s tickets are also available. Tickets can be purchased online or at Black Mamba Skate Park in Shoppingtown Mall. Tickets will also be available at the door the day of the event for $12 for general admission and $22 for front line.

ACRD is an all-women’s flat track roller derby league consisting of working mothers, professionals, wives, and students, ranging in age from 21 to 45. Their goal is to help local communities and promote women’s empowerment. Since its inception in late 2007, Assault City has competed on the road in Vermont, New Jersey, and Ohio as well as throughout Upstate New York. For additional information, please visit www.AssaultCityRollerDerby.com.

The Decision: Lebroncalypse, Dan Gilbert and Comic Sans

In case you've been living under a rock the past week, LeBron James announced during a televised press conference last week that he would be playing for the Miami Heat next season. In case you've been living under a rock for the past eight years, LeBron James was such a good basketball player in high school that ESPN televised his team's games. And then he was selected number one in the ensuing NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers, his hometown team.

For those of you who aren't NBA fans, which I know is most of the readers of this blog, the 2003 NBA Draft might very well be the best one ever. After James went first, Darko Milicic, who turned out to be a bust, was second, followed by Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, who are all household names by now. Four other all-stars were also picked in that draft. So to be the best player chosen in that draft seven years later is saying something.

The general consensus around the sports world, and I'm on the bandwagon, is that James made the right decision for him – playing with Bosh and Wade gives him a reasonable shot at winning a championship, plus he gets to live in Miami – but he could have done it in a much more classy way.

In fact, it would have been hard for him to do it in a less classy way. See, he had six teams courting him (Miami, Cleveland, the Clippers, Chicago, New York and New Jersey), and with the exception of Miami – whom he notified five minutes before announcing his choice publicly – everyone learned about his choice on national TV.

People started burning James's jersey in Cleveland, and a huge billboard of him came down pretty quickly as well. No, he didn't owe them signing a contract in a city where the team wasn't putting a championship-quality supporting cast around him, but maybe he owed the city a little class. Those other teams? Meh. But the city he grew up in and that made him famous? Maybe a little. But whatever. That's not the fun part of this story.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert rifled off an angry letter to Cavs fans. You might notice that, apart from promising a championship before James wins one (1. you don't promise a championship to your fans anyway, but 2. the Cavs have no championships in their 40 seasons; the Heat have one in their 22, and it was with Wade on the team), Gilbert wrote the letter in Comic Sans font.

This won him a fair bit of mocking. It's a fun, curved, spacious font that just doesn't get the angry vibe across, even in all caps. Once the letter came out, the font choice was trending higher on Twitter than James was.

I'm not going to hate on Comic Sans. After all, its creator, Vincent Connare, designed it from comic book lettering, figuring that it would appeal to kids.

It comes down to professionalism. Gilbert had the opportunity to take a more professional route than James did. He chose not too (and got slammed for $100,000 for it). And in making that choice, he opted for a, shall we say, less than appropriate design for his anger. James didn't sign his contract in crayon (I'm assuming). If you own a limo company aimed at corporate execs and formal occasions, you're probably not going with a pink-and-purple color scheme, dancing babies and curlique fonts for your website. If you're trying to get a C-level position at a Microsoft, your email address is probably not RainbowsNBunniesNDrugsOhMy@yahoo.com.

» For fun: Important U.S. documents in Comic Sans
» On James: Never Has Being a Sports Fan Felt So Stupid
» On Personal Branding: What do do when branded employees leave

Guest Post: Could mixed martial arts save the New York State budget?

This is a guest post from Alexia Krause at MMA Industries. Obviously, she's got an angle on this, so take it at face value. Personally, I'm open to any reasonable suggestion to help this state dig out of its budget crisis.

With the New York state deficit hitting $8 billion, steps need to be taken in order to right the ship that is the state's budget. Recently New York Gov. David Paterson stated that the projected deficit for the upcoming fiscal year has grown an additional $750 million. There's no doubting that the Empire State is in dire straits trying to fix their deficit. It is extremely difficult trying to balance a state budget at a time when the country as a whole is going through some of its most difficult economic hurdles in recent history. This forces us to take a fresh look at which programs will continue to receive funding. As a result, the state has been forced to cut, reject, and outright shut down many state programs and projects in order to make some type of movement out of the red and back into the black. Many of these budget cuts (like closing down state parks and cutting funding to public schools) were rampant and have cast an unfavorable light on politicians in Albany in the eyes of many New Yorkers. However, something must be done in order to fight the ailing state economy. As coincidence has it, a good fight might just be the answer to the budget problems.

On June 16th, the New York State Senate passed a bill to legalize MMA in the state in an effort to help amend the state's financial problems. Opening the floodgates for MMA in New York would be more of a benefit to the state than it would to the MMA Industry. For years, promoters have happily held venues in nearby New Jersey. Mixed martial arts competitions like UFC among others have been banned in the state because many lawmakers felt it was too brutal of a sport (even though other legal sports like football and hockey can be just as- if not more- brutal). With the passing of this new bill, fans will finally be able to support their home state and local venues. MMA events would potentially have access to one of the most active metropolises in the world- New York City. There are dozens of great venues surrounding the state who have been capitalizing on this opportunity for years. At the UFC's most recent event held in New Jersey, there were more New York residents in attendance than NJ natives. Fortunately state legislators have finally come to the realization that legalizing MMA will open access to a new revenue stream that it gravely needs.

By welcoming MMA in the state, as much as $11 million in economic activity could be generated for each event held. This activity ranges from salaries paid to venue workers, to an increased interest in martial arts training academies and dojos, to tourism dollars spent in the surrounding area. At every step of the way, tax revenue is generated. The MMA organization UFC (who would play a large role in scheduling events in the state) is broadcasted in over 170 countries, made 5.1 million in Pay-Per-View sales in 2007 alone, and averaged 30.6 million viewers in that same year. This type of outreach is bound to benefit the state and bring thousands to events, thus helping the economies of struggling New York state cities.

Holding events isn't the only way that this bill will help bring money to the state of New York. In fact, the broad reach of allowing MMA to be legalized is something that will affect participants in the sport from top to bottom. For example, people who run mixed martial training gyms and programs will see a huge revenue generating boost in enrollment that will give many the chance to train and compete in their home state. This bill may even have the effect of preventing violence instead of causing it (which opponents of the bill argue) because it will allow many kids to go someplace safe after school. Studies have shown that when at-risk children are trained by mentors in a disciplined sport such as MMA, they are less likely to become involved in criminal activities. This is one of the most important aspects of the bill from a human perspective, and one of the greatest reasons why this bill needs to be passed.

Every once in a while, a sport can transcend its origins and become a true cultural phenomenon. This is what MMA could be for the state of New York and that is precisely why this bill needs to be passed. The New York budget is going through one of its worst economic times ever, but by legalizing MMA, it can help to fight back against the deficit and make a difference in the lives of millions of New Yorkers.

Alexia is a lifelong fan of sports and fitness. Recently, she's been obsessed with MMA. As a result, she has joined forces with MMA Industries, purveyors of widely popular MMA shirts and gloves. Alexia has been writing about the latest developments in MMA training equipment for the past few years, and continues to bring you the latest news in the mixed martial arts world.