Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Sympathy for the Devils

Imagine the scene. Police walk in, they see the body of a man who has hung himself. A woman is bound and strangled to death. Then the body of a seven year old boy, strangled as well. It sounds straight out of a horror movie. This was the scene of the double murder-suicide committed by professional wrestler Chris Benoit. It's a story that is seen as the tipping point for experts and ex-athletes who have called for action for the protection of players. It is what ex-wrestler Christopher Nowinski has made a career out of.

Nowinski and others have been pleading for years that something needs to be done about the dangers football players and other athletes face. The concussions, the violence. It all leads to dementia, Alzheimer's, brain damage, etc. It's the evil leagues that have no sympathy for the players. The NFL lets old linebackers wither and die. Major League Baseball turned the other cheek while players were destroying their own bodies. This is what men like Nowinski claim.

But here's the reality: it's the players' own unions that are killing them. As was seen by many people, including myself in September of 2007, a test for HGH was coming, and the unions wouldn't like it. Well, the test is here, and according to the NFL Players Union, "at this point, there's no reason to believe that blood-testing for NFL players will or should be implemented."

Actually, there are reasons. It's the same reasons why Benoit murdered his family and countless ex-NFL players have committed suicide. The same reasons why Nowinski thinks the NFL is the devil. Contact sports can literally kill you. Now multiply that by 100 when you add HGH in the picture. The hits are harder and the after effects are more damaging. But the Union's stance? They don't want it.

The NFL wants it. Roger Goodell wants it. For as much criticism that the league gets, it's really the Players Union that could care less. And for what? So it won't come out publicly that many of the league's stars are using the same drugs that Chris Benoit used? That would be just as damaging to the NFL itself, not just the players. But they are willing to accept that trade. The Union isn't. The only protection they are interested in is financial protection.

So the next time you hear about some old player dangling from his ceiling or drooling over himself at age 45, don't just attack the leagues. Ask yourself, what are the unions doing to prevent this? The answer: absolutely nothing.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Woods' Apology Was Enough, Unfortunately

There's something interesting in the fact that the first big media event of the new decade was Tiger Woods' "apology". It will be one of those things that we look back at in 2019 and say, "Wow, that was ten years ago?" It already feels like Thanksgiving 2009, when this whole melee began, is in the far away past. But what is more telling than that, and what is the most frightening, is how the media handled the whole thing.

I was watching the fifteen minutes of blame on ESPN2, during First Take. Immediately afterwards, Pat Forde and some apology expert (yes, that's a job), went on to proclaim how great of a speech it was. I scanned the radio and television for the next couple of hours and pretty much heard the same sentiment. Eight hours later, I arrived home from work to see the slew of articles that had come out about the subject. 99% of them came to the same conclusion I had; Tiger Woods' apology was simply pathetic.

I'm not going into the details. If you watched the entire thing and thought of it as anything else than another regurgitated pseudo-apology constructed from the Tiger-machine, than you are either two things: retarded, or desperate for the old Tiger to come back. I think most people fall into the latter group. Pat Forde, who I like, is desperate. That apology expert is just retarded. Either way, I am reminded about why I am saddened that newspapers are dying.

Nowadays, the most heard commentary is the immediate. By the time well thought out columns come out, the talking heads have already beaten the subject into your brain. I am writing this the night of the speech, but when you read this, you will already be tired of the story. A thousand writers have already told you that this speech sucked.

I know it's way too early to say, but this might already be the defining moment of the decade. A speech so robotic, so choreographed and so insincere now has a 50% approval rating, simply because split-second reactions were favorable. Any opinion that took at least an hour to construct would deem Tiger Woods as a fraud. But at face value, in the moment, it might have seemed real. So that's the perception you receive.

The reality is that Woods is a corporate machine. It's the way superstars talk in a post-Jordan world. Any reactionary opinion would see this as the way things are now, without question. The beauty of writing is that you can reflect and put into perspective, only that the columns that get heard are the ones that get out the fastest, which makes them no different than radio or television.

It's sad, and if you weren't paying attention, you might think that this morning's apology had a smidgen of heart in it. It didn't, but because we were told it did, we believe it. Which I guess made it worthwhile, and makes Tiger's ignorance turn into genius. He gave us nothing, but we didn't ask for anything.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

When High Standards Equal Wins

I will admit that I'm not too aware of what the fan bases are like in any towns not named Kansas City or Lawrence. Perhaps those who follow the Tarheels, Longhorns and Bruins act the same way as those who follow the Jayhawks. All I know is from my own experiences, so with that being said, this is what I know: criticism breeds winning.

Last night's domination of Kansas over Texas was just that - a domination - unless you happen to be in Jayhawk country. Nationally, it would seem as if KU had just cemented their sixth straight Big 12 title and is now waiting for April to begin. But locally, you only hear one thing from the fans: Kansas has a lot of work to do.

This might seem a little out of place if you don't follow the team every day. Because when you compare them to your favorite team, no matter who that might be, then the Jayhawks come off as being better. But in Kansas, you have only one team to compare them to: themselves. When you do that, then you are never satisfied.

All I hear day after day is how Sherron Collins has too much on his plate or Cole Aldrich isn't playing very well or Marcus Morris needs to stay out of foul trouble or that Xavier Henry is a disappointment or Tyshawn Taylor makes too many mistakes or how Brady Morningstar is offensively challenged. You know what the reality is? Every single one of those players is better than the guy he's matched up against in most of the games they play. I dread every time Markieff Morris comes onto the court, but that's only because he isn't as good as the other KU players. He's still better than your sixth or seventh man.

You can find a flaw in any championship team, especially when you know them like the back of your hand. The truth is they rank in the top ten in most of the statistical categories that matter, and they've lost one - count 'em, one - game all season long, which was a road game against a ranked team early in the season. They are undefeated in the conference with the highest RPI. They have three NBA draft picks. They have a shoe-in Hall of Fame coach. They have veteran leadership. What more do you want?

Kansas fans want perfection, just like Bill Self does. No, perfection isn't possible. But when K-State beat Texas while their two top players struggled, at home, it was seen as the biggest win of the year. When Kansas beats Texas with their two top players struggling, on the road, in dominating fashion? We pick out the negatives. That's the difference.

But when you do that, when you demand perfection and are never happy, it's hard for the players to think any other way. These players know that somehow, some way, being 22-1 and the #1 team in the country doesn't satisfy their fans, so it shouldn't satisfy them.

It's why certain teams always rise to the top, and why those teams can still have a chip on their shoulder. It's also why other teams should fear the Kansas Jayhawks. Yes, we're good, but guess what: we're only getting better.

Monday, February 8, 2010

J Fish on Sports Sabbath

Take a listen to the new sports podcast, Sports Sabbath. I co-host this new show, which is a weekly sports talk show every Sunday night. Recorded right after the Super Bowl.

Sports Sabbath

America's Team

A lot has been made of the plight of New Orleans. Katrina, the horrid history of the Saints, the city that was forgotten. That's why every non-Colts fan was rooting for them. But you can take all of that and throw it out the window, because the real reason we were all Saints fans for one day can be described in two words: Who Dat.

Those words are ignorant. They are uneducated. They are words spoken with a down South, good ole boy dialect, representing a lack of knowledge or interest in the right or proper way to speak or act. In the 21st century, we strive to be smarter. We want to be more refined. But the heart of America and what it means to be American is why we were so anxious to jump on the Saints bandwagon to begin with; the love for the underdog.

To quote Bill Murray in Stripes:

We're Americans, with a capital 'A', huh? You know what that means? Do ya? That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We're the underdog. We're mutts!

That's America. We love the Louisiana natives who still speak in a faux-English that is otherwise deemed as the dialect of the dumb. They are more honest and true than their progressive friends of the North. A lot of conservatives bad-mouthed the city for not leaving during Hurricane Katrina and standing tall at their homes. But that's NOLA; loyalty and patriotism over knowledge and reason.

It's why an Aints fan is still a Saints fan. It's, like it or not, why this win means more than a Colts win would've meant for Indianapolis. It's why American optimism still exists when there's so many reasons to give up.

New Orleans is full of mutts, full of citizens that were so easily forgotten. But that makeup is what has made Americans so impressive to the rest of the world. You can be Peyton Manning - a new-age technological machine - but that can't overcome passion and voodoo. It's the unmeasurable that beats the stats.

That's America, and the New Orleans Saints are America's team.
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