Friday, June 26, 2009

Why We Are Really Saddened About Michael Jackson

I'm going to take a break from sports for a second to talk about what everyone else is talking about - the death of Michael Jackson. Only, it isn't the end of his life that has people so upset, rather, it's the death of his resurrection.
Michael Jackson, the child star and King of Pop, has been dead for a while now. In his place we were given Jacko, the freakshow plastic man who slept with underage boys. And that is the man who left us yesterday. Fans have already mourned over the beloved superstar, but the news that he was trying to jump start his career and with the hope that this was true, his death brought a sobering reality: Michael Jackson is never coming back.

He will never redeem himself. He will not return back to form, no longer write any classic songs. And apparently, this is news to people. Because why else would anyone care?

What would be the reaction to O.J. Simpson's death? I ask because the two have some distinct similarities. Both were beloved stars, both acquitted of hanus crimes that 99% of the population believes they were guilty of. Both transformed into two different people entirely. They were involved in the two most-watched trials in the last twenty years. But Simpson's death wouldn't carry the nationwide sadness that Jackson's has. Why? Because we've accepted that the old Simpson is never coming back. His trial was a two-year long funeral of the funny, lovable actor/athlete, ending with the birth of this Bizarro O.J. who has as about as many fans as George W. Bush.

But we really never let go of Jackson. The reason for it, I suppose, is because we understood him. We all know that his childhood (or lack thereof) was the reason for his transformation. It's purely human, while Simpson's alter-ego has no back story. We can't fathom why he did what he did. So we've all held up this hope that Jackson would break out of this shell he has made for himself, and return to glory with Thriller 2.

Now we're faced with the fact that it's never going to happen. And nothing has really changed. We still have the records and videos and memories of Jackson, and Jacko was never going to add anymore to it. So if you're mourning the death of Michael Jackson, all I have to say is that you're a tad bit late. But hey, isn't denial just part of the grieving process?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Win Against Spain Means Nothing

What prisoners of the moment we are. Wednesday's big news was that the USA soccer team beat #1 Spain 2-0. It was the headline for the websites of ESPN, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports and Yahoo Sports. Everyone was talking about it. My question is, um, why?

Last time I checked (and I check every so often), nobody in this country cares about soccer. We don't play it and we don't watch it. So why all the hoopla about beating Spain? I can understand if we just beat the Iranian team, or if it was 2002 and we beat the French. Do we really only pay attention when we do something well?

Yup. The reason we don't like soccer is because we're not any good at it. We are the Clippers of soccer. So we pass it off as a silly foreign game. It's boring, not really a sport, bad television, so on and so on.

Wait, we beat the #1 team? USA! USA! USA!

That's pretty much the common thinking here. It's embarrassing seeing everyone get so excited over this. Where were you when we were routinely getting our asses kicked? At least with the sports we like, we endure the rough times. Cleveland sports have had about as much glory as Team USA, but their fans still bleed with their teams and never waver.

And this is why soccer will never become popular in this country. Shortly after the match, ESPN put up a poll, "Was a 2-0 win against Spain a game-changing moment for the sport of soccer in the United States?" The results: 57% said yes. I guarantee you that this time next year, 90% of those people who answered yes won't give a damn about soccer.

That is, unless we become Spain. If Team USA goes on to dominate the sport or at least be in serious contention every year, then maybe we will all become fans. But what's the odds of that happening? Remember, a bigger upset happened in 1980 when Team USA beat Russia in hockey. And we all know how much Americans loooooove hockey...

Please stop acting like you care about this. The only time Americans pay attention to soccer is when one of the players rips her shirt off. Or David Beckham rips his shirt off. And I think that about says it all.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sports Isn't Reality

I hate reality television. It is a commercialized, over-produced lie wrapped in a nice, advertised bow of truth. The Bachelor isn't really looking for love. Survivor contestants probably check their Facebook off camera. But the illusion of reality sells, and what drives the market is a world that is much better - and simpler- than real life. Only, in reality shows, when the real world rears its ugly Putin-like head, better T.V. is had. Like when Tila Tequila gets an STD.

Sports is the ultimate reality show. It's the first reality show. That's why we love it; sports is human emotion + skill - editing. Sports is raw - but not really. The world of sports is as fake as American Idol votes, and Jonathan Papelpon is a prime example.

When the Red Sox closer blurted out that he is open to join the rival Yankees when his contract is up, it sent shock waves around Red Sox Nation. How could he possibly speak such blasphemy?

Because sports is a business. Papelbon doesn't care about Boston lore and he has no loyalties. Pitching is what he does for a living, not to carry on a hatred between two cities. He loves what he does and he's good at it, isn't that enough?

Remember, the Red Sox are the same team that let Babe Ruth, Wade Boggs and Roger Clemens don pinstripes. And they are crying "traitor"?

Truth is, this is how nearly all professional athletes think. They don't care about your personal war. But they usually play the game. In the normal world of professional sports, Papelbon wouldn't let it be known that his colors run North until the moment he signed with New York. This keeps his integrity in Boston intact, and leaving us with the notion that our prejudices matter.

Well, they don't. This is the true reality of sports. We've only contrived a true dream scenario, which is no different than The Hills for teenagers. I love the drama of athletics, but let's not pretend that our heroes care about the same quarrels as we do. Any Sox fan would quickly change sides for a few million bucks, and Papelbon isn't any worse of a person for doing the same.

Fixing Baseball

Baseball is again down in the dumps, thanks to the "news" that Sammy Sosa roided it up. So here are a few ideas that could fix America's Pastime.

1. The league with the best interleague record gets home field advantage for the World Series.

Enough with the All-Star game being the deciding factor. It's an exhibition game, which is supposed to be fun, not matter. Who wants to see two players on sub-.500 teams square off when it doesn't even matter to them? Yes, the winning and losing pitchers last year were from the Rays and Phillies - the two World Series teams - but how often does that happen? The only reason this rule is in place is because Bud Selig made an awful decision by calling the game a tie in 2002.

If we pick the league with the best interleague record, that will give us a much fairer outcome. That way, home field advantage (which is huge) will go to the best league, rewarding the team who had the toughest road to the Series, and the All Star game can go back to being fun.

2. Age restrictions

The biggest problem with baseball, in my opinion, is that nobody knows where these guys come from. College baseball is virtually non-existent, and no way are we going to follow every high school kid, international player or A/AA/AAA prospect. So here's a thought: you have to be two years removed from high school to be drafted/signed by a MLB club. It's what the NFL does, and it works. This rule will force players to attend college for at least two years, which will expose prospects to the national stage, which in turn will gets fans interested in the college game, which then leads to interest in the minor leagues.

With all the young talent being relocated to the NCAA, it will expand the talent pool and make it, for once, watchable. We will be acclimated with the college environment, making the MLB draft on par with the NFL/NBA drafts. Also, getting Central American players out of societies where PEDs are served with breakfast won't hurt either.

3. Get tough on steroids - for real this time

First strike: one year suspension. Second strike: three year suspension. Third strike: you're out.

If that doesn't force players to think twice before dropping their drawers for a performance boost, I don't know what will. But in order to do this, baseball has to be prepared. First off, the MLB must make a list of all known substances which might come up positive under a PED test. Go to a GNC and mark down everything. Make it known, make it clear, and there will be no mistake about what is or is not acceptable.

4. The World Baseball Classic should be played directly after the World Series.

Here's why it's bad to play the WBC in March: it's March! What do you think we're watching? Most casual fans don't get into baseball until June/July, let alone during college basketball season. Play it right after the Series, and you'll get fans right when their taste for baseball is the most palatable. This also helps us to get familiar with international players. Hey, if we watch the World Cup because of the rabid nationalism, we sure as hell will watch the baseball equivalent.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Donte' Stallworth is not Michael Vick

Somehow, minorities getting in trouble hurts caucasians the most. It's because of what I all Angry White Man Complex. AWMC is when the collective hatred of the pigmently challenged rallies everyone else against them in the name of bigotry. It's what happened in the cases of O.J. Simpson and Michael Vick, and it's dangerously close to happen with the Donte' Stallworth mini-drama.

So, long story short, Stallworth, an NFL wide receiver, hit and killed a man with his car while driving under the influence. With that description, Stallworth should at least get the same penalty as Leonard Little, who did the same thing, and probably should get hit harder with Roger Goodell as Punisher in Chief. Except, the long story isn't short.

The facts seem to point to an accident. Not that Stallworth was a drunk whose impairment led to someone's death. Apparently, the story is that victim Mario Reyes darted out in front of Stallworth's car, and that the hit and run was unavoidable unless the star receiver made a miraculous car commercial-like move.

Oh, and it wasn't a hit and run. Stallworth stopped immediately, called the cops and volunteered to take a breathalyzer knowing he had been drinking. Seem like he premeditated a crime like torturing dogs?

The family settled financially, and the courts did so judicially. So why all the outrage? On today's broadcast of "Around The Horn" on ESPN, L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said that the verdict "stinked", was "all about the money" and is "wrong". Well, Mr. Plaschke, if the family is satisfied, then why aren't you? Stop looking at the case by face value and look at the facts. If the NFL wants to punish Stallworth for driving drunk, then fine, so be it. But the fact that a professional athlete didn't serve what sports writing legal experts consider ample time doesn't mean that it's another case of a celebrity getting off light.

Seriously, learn the facts folks.

Monday, June 15, 2009

It's Time To Legalize Gambling

I am a gambler. I love the rush - the anticipation of every pitch, the excitement of a three-pointer and the hope of a missed field goal. Anyone who has ever placed a wager, whether it be a $5 bet on a Super Bowl coin flip or a $1000 roll on a craps table, will know from the very first time whether or not they are truly a gambler. I'm not proud of it, but I also am not ashamed. It's who I am and I deal with the harsh reality of having such a vice.

I don't need anybody to protect myself from it either. And that somebody is U.S. House Representative Spencer Bachus. He is the one leading the charge against internet gambling. On the other side is Rep. Barney Frank from Massachusetts, who is trying to pass a bill for legalization. Dueling columns written by the two men on gives both sides of the argument, but since Frank's views are similar to mine, let me point out the voice of the opposition:

- Betting with a credit card undercuts a player's perception of the value of cash, which leads to addiction
- Underage kids can bypass age verification
- Underage kids fall prey due to computer access
- Gambling is 24/7 online
- Internet operations are vulnerable to criminal activity
- Regulation is hard and takes time

The first four points all have something in common, so I'll address those first. The idea that using credit cards somehow tricks people into betting more than they can afford has less to do with gambling and everything to do with, ahem, credit cards. This is the society we live in, folks. Millions of Americans use their magic pieces of plastic to buy things they can't afford. Personal responsibility, or the lack thereof, is a national problem that extends way farther than

That lack of control is also what the fear of 24/7 gambling is all about. Frank makes an excellent point that it is quite curious that conservatives, who are always complaining about a Democratic "nanny" government, seem very interesting and protecting ourselves from ourselves. So what if I spend 12 straight hours playing Seven-Card Stud High-Low Eight-Or-Better against a businessman from Singapore and a college dropout from Houston? Who am I hurting? Believe me, if anything I'm buying that businessman a new Porsche or getting that kid back into school. I suck at poker.

The other three points I will lightly touch on. First, if you're worried that college kids are using their laptops to play computer games, God bless you. You don't want to know what they're actually using it for. Just type in "two girls" into Google. See what your kids are really watching.

Age-verification and criminal activity can be solved by one thing: legalization. That will bring regulation, the arch-enemy of Republicans. Well, business regulation that is. As far as regulating your own behavior, they're all for it. As Bachus puts it, "new legislation would direct the Treasury Department to set up a new regulatory regime to oversee shadowy foreign gaming enterprises in a mere matter of months". That's how Bachus thinks, because that's how the media works. If things aren't running smoothly in a short time frame, it must be a bust. Truth is, the process will be long and tedious, and in the dawn of gambling's legalization there will be a lot of fake sites and "shadowy foreign gaming enterprises". But, as the saying goes, nothing worth doing is ever easy. We'll have to take the lumps. I'm okay with that.

While Frank is still anti-sports betting, I applaud him for his effort. He is still a politician and I am sure his stance against all other gambling is purely political. But I'm tired of people telling me what to do.

As Frank so eloquently put it himself: "the vast majority of human activities should be neither encouraged nor outlawed by the government but rather be left entirely to the choice of free individuals."

Blind Faith

Life is full of many tough decisions, but picking your favorite sports team isn't one of them. Most of us were indoctrinated at a very young age, much like the kids in Jesus Camp. And like those kids, we too have our little rituals, warped thinking, extreme loyalty and a deranged enthusiasm for our sports teams. But I live in Kansas City. I only have three. For me, it's all about the Royals, Chiefs and Kansas Jayhawks. We have no NBA or NHL team, and it is simply not enough for me. That's why I have decided that the time is now to choose sides. No longer will I watch professional basketball or hockey with an objective eye. And just to make sure I get my sports fill, I'm going to pick a NASCAR driver as well.

But how do I go about doing this? I can't simply just pick some teams. That would be too biased, plus I don't want to be that guy who becomes a Lakers/Penguins/Jimmie Johnson fan because they happen to be winning at the time. In other words, I don't want to be LeBron James.

The only true way is through complete randomization. For that, I turned to's List Randomizer. And to bring myself a little bit of fortune, my teams and driver will be the eighth down the list; my lucky number.

The results: Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Wild and Greg Biffle.

I can live with the Pistons, who are a storied franchise, even if they seem to be headed for a quick free fall. They've always had that hard-nosed, blue-collar toughness, which I like. They hate Chicago, and I can back that up as a KC resident. Their last championship, in 2004, was under coach Larry Brown, who led my beloved Jayhawks to a national championship in 1988. I can work with this.

The other two are a bit tricky, since I have never really followed hockey or racing. But that was really the whole point; becoming a fan of one team/driver will help me in becoming a fan of those sports. I need a rooting interest.

So there it is, my new distractions. I now have a stake in all the major sports, and my loyalties will not waver. Well, until the Sprint Center finds some tenants, that is.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Raul Ibanez, Steroids and the Media

It is now time to comment on the infamous Raul Ibanez story. If you're not in the know, here's the short version: a blogger for Midwest Sports Fans wrote an article which happened to include a " what if?" about Ibanez's great start to 2009, and if it's possible that steroids could be the culprit. Well, after the post got some internet love, Philadelphia Inquirer journalist John Gonzales made the news national in his column, berated original poster "JRod" for insinuating that Ibanez is a cheater. Which, it should be stated, he did not.

If you don't automatically think of PEDs when someone comes out of nowhere and starts hitting the ball in a Bonds-ian manner, then you haven't been paying attention over the last decade. We thought Alex Rodriguez would be the Golden Boy who cleared Bonds' record. Uh-oh. Well, at least there are pure hitters like Manny Ramirez who don't need to cheat. Oops. OK, but we know that the pitchers these juicers are hitting are doing it the right way. Wrong again.

As in JRod's original story, I want to remind everybody that steroid allegations are not personal attacks on anybody, but the harsh reality of baseball. And while it was read for what is was worth through the tubes, when Gonzales "legitimatized" the story by reporting it in the Inquirer, he conveniently cherry picked a few quotes to make it look like JRod was accusing Ibanez of cheating.

This is what the media does. Mass media hounds bloggers like myself for wanting to be the story instead of reporting it, and condemning us for not researching the facts or not having the "inside information" unlike scholars like themselves. It's tired. Truth is, the hoopla didn't start until Gonzales made it front page news and - gasp! - made himself a part of the story instead of - gulp! - not giving us the real facts. Oh, mainstream journalism at its finest.

Please, read the original article. Don't let media heads like The Inquirer spin stories to get you riled up. I won't ever get a gig at a major newspaper because I don't have the credentials, mainly because I dropped out of journalism school. And why? Because after the first day I could tell that the plan was to mold me into the type of writer like Gonzalez, and I rather work my forty hours and do this in my off time than become that type of scum. The Inquirer's profile of Gonzalez claims that the writer was a wannabe politician who got creamed in a bid for Congress. Wow, I wonder where he learned his spin...

Again, if you don't think of steroids when a 37 year old is hitting out of his mind, then you are blind or lying to yourself. It's your duty to be skeptical. Giving the benefit of the doubt is what allowed the Steroids Era to happen, and until big hitters stop testing positive, we shouldn't let up. Get used to it.

By the way, for the real reason of Ibanez's success, Joe Posnanski has the answer.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Kobe Isn't That Important

I'm starting to hear way too much about Kobe Bryant. I didn't think I would have a problem with it - after all, who didn't see Kobe Fest 2009 coming when LeBron was eliminated? But I wanted me some #24. I wanted to see him make his mark. But he isn't solely responsible for the Lakers' title hopes.

Unless he goes for 81 points again, he is just another player on the court, albeit the best one. But whether or not he wants to win it more than anyone else won't bring home a trophy. Neither will the fact that he is seemingly more nasty and serious in this series then he ever has been before. The Lakers are just a better team, and the better team wins seven game series.

If Courtney Lee makes that alley-oop at the end of Game 2, then what? Is Kobe's extreme focus now a problem? Does his want for a title now hinder his team? Of course not, and it works the other way. The Lakers won because Orlando blew chances, bottom line. But it was close because, for the most part, the Magic played their game. The Game 1 blowout had more to do with Orlando not making any shots than the demeanor of L.A.'s shooting guard.

Truth is, Bryant's importance to the Lakers is crunch time, and we haven't seen it yet because we haven't needed it. We got a glimpse at the end of regulation in Game 2, but it didn't matter. And that's the point. He scored 8 of the Lakers' last 10 points, but it still went into overtime. The reason is that the game has ten players, not one, and the Magic five did their part as well. And the scary part for L.A. is that when Kobe was trying to end the game by himself, J.J. Redick, Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu were matching him. And don't we always side with the "team"?

It was a mix of good defense and Pau Gasol that won that game, not the will of Kobe Bryant. And that's fine, that's the way it usually works out. But stop talking to me about how Kobe is on a mission. So are a dozen other guys playing this game, and they matter more collectively than one man, despite how good he may be.

Monday, June 1, 2009

LeBron Has Entered the Dark Side

Sometime during the 2009 postseason, it became popular to hate LeBron James. I'll admit he's not helping his own cause at the moment, but where did this stem from exactly? He was The King, more likable than Kobe but just as marketable, a guy who played as hard as he could as long as he could and was making strides as a complete, all-around basketball player. But something happened during that Magic series; he became a closer.

The one knock on LeBron is that he was not clutch. Well, knocking down game-tying free throws, hitting a fade-away buzzer beater and winning an entire fourth quarter playing one-on-five put that notion to rest. Those moments propelled him to Kobe-status, a super stardom James was already at but now it's legitimatized. No doubt this was fueled by the ESPN Kobe-LeBron puppet ads. And there's no doubt this has also led to Lebron's polarization. You know he's big and you know he's legit because now he has more haters than every before.

James added more gas to the fire by his "poor sportsmanship" after the Game 6 loss. Failing to shake anybody's hand (but more importantly, Dwight Howard's hand) and not talking to the media, for the first time fans and sportswriters alike ripped LeBron and questioned his personality. For years we have been desperately seeking Jordan, but the once James does something purely Jordan-esque, he is condemned for it. I think it's clear that if Michael Jordan was playing in today's game, his legendary competitiveness would be chalked up to thuggery and selfishness.

So, there are two paths to follow now for LeBron. The first path is damage control, to repair his image and regain his status as King. This is the mostly likely route for James to take. But he can also decide that instead of being Kobe, he would much rather be Jordan. That path leads to storming off the court, not even caring who Dwight Howard is, jetting to New York and becoming the most feared player in the league. It is the Dark Side, and I hope he takes it.

Going from hometown boy to the savior of Cleveland is nice, but it's a fairy tale. Real life is mean an nasty, and that's what LeBron needs to be. I say flee to the Knicks, bring Bosh or Wade with you, and become part of the Jay-Z lifestyle you obviously love. The White Sportswriters of America will hate you for it. See how they fell in love with Howard, who is as nice as can be with a million dollar smile. You tried that, but the Magic series brought out the real you. There is no turning back.
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