The Obverse Of Leicester City in the EPL…

I doubt there are many folks who have more than a casual interest in sports who have not heard about Leicester City’s improbable season. They are the English Premier League champs sitting 10 points ahead of second-place Tottenham with only one game to play. The team has plans to reward its fans with a free beer and free Pizza Hut pizza; anyone with a ticket to the final game gets both. It is a great feel-good story but it masks the real drama that remains in the EPL season. There are deep feelings of unease, angst and apprehension down at the bottom of the table in “The Relegation Zone”. Here is the deal:

    Aston Villa is guaranteed to be relegated to the English Football Championship next year. They have played 37 games this season and have won only 3 of them.

    The bottom three teams get relegated; that leaves two more teams – and sets of fans – in a state of high anxiety. Here is the situation as of this morning:

      Norwich City is next to last in the table with 31 points – but they have 2 games still to play

      Three from the bottom at the moment is Newcastle with 34 points. They have only one more game.

      Four up from the bottom – but not out of the woods – is Sunderland with 35 points and still 2 games to play.

    In the EPL, a team gets 3 points for a win and 1 point for a draw. That means any one of these teams can make it out of the Relegation Zone when the day of reckoning comes in a week or so.

By the way, in case you are not familiar with the geography of northeastern England, Newcastle and Sunderland are about 20 miles apart. There is a long-standing rivalry going back more than 100 years. If things stay the way they are now, Newcastle will not be playing Sunderland twice in the EPL next year…

Greg Cote had this mention of Leicester City’s EPL champion ship season in the Miami Herald recently:

“Leicester City won the first EPL championship in its history against 5,000-to-1 odds. Coincidentally, those were the same odds against the Dolphins’ No. 1 selection being pictured draft-night wearing a bong gas mask.”

The Zika virus has gotten a lot attention by the UN World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control here in the US. The consequences of a Zika infection are serious indeed and the prevalence of the virus – for the moment – is in warm climates because the mosquito that is the disease vector is a warm weather insect. The virus can cause pregnant women – or women who become pregnant after encountering the virus – to give birth to severely impaired children. Two countries – Brazil and El Salvador – have suggested to the women in those countries to avoid getting pregnant until at least 2018 so that eradication of the insects and medical advances can catch up to the consequences of the virus.

Earlier, that caused some female competitors to wonder if Zika was a sufficient threat to have them opt not to participate in the Rio Olympics this summer. Men too can be infected and some male athletes wondered aloud if going to Rio was a good idea. I have not read any reports of widespread “defections” from the Olympic ranks, but it was a subject that came up. I mention this because the Zika virus has caused a change of venue in another sport – MLB.

The Pirates and Marlins had scheduled two games in Hiram Bithorn stadium in San Juan Puerto Rico for 30-31 May. Puerto Rico has had confirmed cases of Zika; here is what the CDC website says about Puerto Rico:

“Local mosquito transmission of Zika virus infection (Zika) has been reported in Puerto Rico. Local mosquito transmission means that mosquitoes in the area are infected with Zika virus and are spreading it to people.”

The players, the MLBPA, MLB and the teams came to the decision to play those games in Miami instead of in Puerto Rico at the end of the month. As Shakespeare said:

“The better part of valor is discretion…”

Of course, Greg Cote of the Miami Herald took the announcement of the change of venue and wondered about its ultimate efficacy:

“Marlins’ May 30-31 games vs. Pirates will not be played Puerto Rico as scheduled because of threat of Zika virus there. Instead the games will be played at Marlins Park, because of course we have no mosquitos in South Florida (!)”

The FIFA Ethics Committee [/chuckle] has something called “the adjudicatory chamber”. If that does not sound like a “star chamber” then I must be seriously off mark here. In any event, that “adjudicatory chamber” handed down two edicts recently and banished for life two individuals who plead guilty in the US to charges of “racketeering conspiracy and wire fraud conspiracy.” The two men were senior figures in the world of Latin American soccer:

    Sergio Jadue was formerly the VP of CONMEBOL (the South American Football Association) and the former President of the Chilean Football Association.

    Luis Bedoya was also a former VP of CONMEBOL and the former President of the Colombian Football Association.

Without going into the details of what they did or did not do, the edict bans these men from virtually any association with football (national or international) for life. Presumably, they can still go and buy a ticket and watch a game if they so choose, but nothing much beyond that.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“Nebraska’s bowling team is ranked No. 1 in the nation.

“Who says the Cornhuskers no longer get to play in meaningful bowl games?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Kentucky Derby Weekend

Greg Cote summed up the status of horseracing as an element of the sports cosmos in 2016 with this observation in the Miami Herald last weekend:

“Nyquist wins Kentucky Derby as gates open on Triple Crown season: Nyquist showed why he was the betting favorite in Saturday’s 142nd Kentucky Derby. Still, most thoroughbred experts predict we likely won’t see an end this year to the Triple Crown drought stretching all the way back to 2015.”

We had some folks over to the house on Saturday to watch the race – and to have some mint juleps and some wine and some really nice food. None of our guests could name a single horse in the race – not even Nyquist. There was a time when one of THE prime assignments at a newspaper was “the beat writer for horseracing”. Those days are long – oh-so-long gone…

Evidently, the sportswriters who intimated – or said outright – that the Red Sox were merely saving face when they said Pablo Sandoval had a shoulder injury were incorrect. The story now is that Sandoval will undergo surgery on his left shoulder and that in all probability he will miss the rest of the 2016 season. Just so no one thinks that they need to start a GoFundMe campaign for Sandoval, he will still collect on his $17M guaranteed salary this year – – but will miss out on the potential for any performance bonuses. Prior to his injury, Sandoval went to the plate 7 times; he got 1 walk and that was it. I suspect that is not enough to trigger any of his bonus clauses.

This is only the second year of Sandoval’s guaranteed 5-year deal with the Red Sox. Here are his salaries for the future:

    2017: $17M
    2018: $18M
    2019: $18M

    Oh, and if Sandoval does not eat himself out of MLB by the end of the 2019 season there is a – snicker if you will – club option in the contract for the 2020 season at $17M (with a $5M buyout).

Unless he gets that shoulder fixed properly AND he finds a way to shed about 40-50 lbs and get into some sort of athletic condition, that contract will have to go in the Pantheon of Bad Sports Contracts. Once again, Greg Cote summarized the essence of this situation with a single brief comment in the Miami Herald:

“Yes, Pablo Sandoval played only three games for the Red Sox and was 0-for-6 before season-ending surgery. However, in that short time he did lead all AL batters in second helpings”

While I am in the mode of quoting sportswriters on current events in baseball, consider this one from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

“Striking out: As another MLB season with expanded replay unfolds, there’s still very little about the review system I like. After almost every close call, a manager pops out of the dugout in an obvious delaying tactic while his instant-replay gremlin analyzes the video and assesses the odds of winning a challenge. Is this baseball’s idea of keeping the games moving?”

He is right, you know.

I am sure you have heard more than enough about Eagles’ QB, Sam Bradford, being miffed at the team for trading up to take a QB with the #2 pick in the draft and how he went home and refused to participate in the team’s voluntary off-season activities. The only question in my mind is this:

    Is he being a petulant child or this this utterly infantile behavior?

However, the story gained just a tad of panache last week when Terrell Owens said that Bradford’s behavior was that of a coward. In case you think I am making that up, here is a link to the report. When I read this, here is what went through my mind:

    How desperately must this man want to see his name in the papers? He is also the guy who laments that the NFL has “blackballed him” because no team will give him a tryout when they need to replace a WR in mid-season. So, here he goes out of his way to remind everyone in every NFL Front Office why he has been labeled a locker room cancer…

    Cue Bugs Bunny: What a maroon.

Fans on the South Side of Chicago have a treat awaiting them when they go to a White Sox game at US Cellular Field. No, this is not some fat-laced sandwich concoction or a “death-by-carbos” dish. No here is what the White Sox have as a fan offering:

    The Boozy Snow Cone: What’s in a name, you say? This is crushed ice with flavored snow cone syrup PLUS vodka.

    I wonder if sales spike in those games where the Sox are trailing by 6 runs after the first two innings…?

Finally, here is an observation from Brad Dickson in the Omaha World-Herald:

“I read that former Major League Baseball player Clarence Blethen is the only player to bite himself in the butt. As claims to greatness go, I’m labeling this rather lame.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

NBA Stuff Today

With the NBA Playoffs in full bloom – and with all the blowout games so far, that full bloom is polluting the air with tons of pollen indeed – there have been more than a couple of games that were decided in the final minutes when the officials “swallowed their whistles”. After issuing pabulum comments in the wake of the first couple of these events, the NBA did acknowledge that officials ignored 5 different fouls in the final moments of a Spurs/Thunder contest. The prevailing narrative in support of the “swallow the whistle philosophy” has been:

    The referees do not want to be the ones to decide the game outcome; that should be done by the players.

Here is my problem with that narrative:

    By not making those calls in the final moments of a game that should be called because the on-court actions are fouls, the referees are in fact deciding the outcome of the game by not enforcing the rules in the book.

Let me be clear here. I am not suggesting that we are looking at a 2016 outbreak of “Tim Donaghy Influenza”; if long-term NBA conspiracy theorists want to include these recent events into their decades-long narrative about Front Office edicts over who wins and loses specific playoff games, so be it. Nonetheless, the recent spate of “no-calls” or “missed calls” has been so widespread that I have begun to wonder if the NBA has sent its officials to some sort of joint training program with WWE referees.

I do not agree with the idea that officials should change the way they call a basketball game in the final moments with only one exception:

    If there are two minutes to play in any game – regular season or playoffs – and one team is winning by 35 points, the only time I would blow a whistle would be if the ball went out of bounds or if a foul occurred that was so egregious that it might draw a personal foul penalty in the NFL.

In the circumstance above, the idea is to get the game over with. The only calls that need to be made there are ones that maintain order. However, if the score difference is 3 points and there are 30 seconds left on the clock, every foul and every violation may be critical calls with regard to the outcome. If the “players are to decide the outcome” then the officials have to make all of the proper calls to enable the players to do so.

Speaking of the NBA Playoffs, there is a story that I find uplifting in and among the stories about poor officiating. Chris Bosh has a blood clot on one of his lungs and clots in his leg. The pulmonary condition was diagnosed more than a year ago and he has missed a lot of playing time last year; the leg clots were detected this year and he has been out of action for a couple of months. These conditions are not like a blown-out knee when can be rehabbed with a lot of work; blood clots may be treated and controlled, but when/if they break loose, they can be fatal. He has a condition that could kill him – not “kill his career”; I mean kill his body.

Chris Bosh is on medication and he wants to play for the Heat in the playoffs. The team can obviously benefit from having his talent available to them in the playoffs, but the team has refused to put him on the active roster. The Miami Heat is acting contrary to its short-term interests and in favor of Bosh’s long-term interests and the team’s long-term interests too. That sort of behavior is not prevalent in the world of professional sports and I find it laudatory.

Well, I am on an NBA track today, so let me tell you about another story that came out earlier this week. Recall that the NBA decided on a “trial program” to allow teams to sport a 2.5-inch by 2.5-inch patch on their uniforms bearing a sponsor’s logo. Well, earlier this week, the league informed the teams about what sorts of sponsors were permissible and what sorts of sponsors were impermissible. According to a report on CBSSports.com, here are the ones that are not going to be allowed:

    Alcohol: An interesting banishment here – teams can sell beer in the arenas but cannot wear a 6.25 square inch patch that has a beer brand logo on it. Hmmm…

    Tobacco: Perfectly understandable. Some will decry this as overly politically correct; I think those pronouncements are silly.

    Politics: Perfectly understandable. Might someone take this to the Supreme Court claiming the patch is “protected political expression”? I hope not.

    Media company: Understandable. They do not want patches for “Network X” on players while the games are on “Network Y”.

    Nike competitors: Understandable. Nike has the contract to make all the uniforms and display the Swoosh; they do not need mixed messages there.

    Gambling: Another interesting banishment. FanDuel has “partnerships” with about half the teams in the NBA so will Fan Duel – and or Draft Kings – be allowed to buy a team’s patch?

As is always the case, making a list of things that are not allowed opens the door to things that are not on the list but might be out of line with the sort of image that the league might want to maintain. For example:

    Condoms
    Bordellos
    PETA
    Colon Cleansers
    Westboro Baptist Church – – I could go on here but you get the idea…

Finally, let me close with a comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News regarding an NBA player from times past:

“Astronaut Scott Kelly has returned from a year in space only to learn he is two inches taller than when he left.

“Somewhere Muggsy Bogues is saying, ‘Now they tell me.’”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

Bad Meat…

Earlier this week, the NFL and the NFLPA sent a warning note to all NFL players with the logo of both organizations at the top. Here is the text of that warning note:

“There is evidence that some meat produced in China and Mexico may be contaminated with clenbuterol, an anabolic agent which is banned by the NFL Policy on Performance-Enhancing Substances. Consuming large quantities of meat while visiting those particular countries may result in a positive test for clenbuterol in violation of the Policy.

“Players are warned to be aware of this issue when traveling to Mexico and China. Please take caution if you decide to consume meat and understand that you do so at your own risk.

“Please remember that as stated in the NFL Policy for Performance-enhancing Substances: ‘Players are responsible for what is in their bodies.’”

I am not about to go off on a tangent here wondering why the FDA is not issuing such a general notice and/or why meat imports from either country do not have a warning sticker on them when they are in our supermarkets. These are not politically-oriented rants; these are sports rants. So, I would prefer to point out two things here:

    According to the official NFL schedule recently released, on Monday, 21 November 2016, the Oakland Raiders and the Houston Texans will tee it up for MNF in Mexico City. I suspect that neither team will be flying into Mexico City the morning of the game; the NFL has other rules on the books that require visiting teams to be in the game city at least a day ahead of time; in this case where neither team is playing in its home venue, I presume that rule applies to both teams. Therefore:

      Are all the players supposed to “go vegetarian” for the time they are on site preparing for the MNF game? Or …

      Are both teams supposed to pack in their own meat products for team consumption? Or …

      Are players on those two teams going to “get a pass” in case they test for clenbuterol two weeks after that game?

    Oh, here is another one … The NFL maven in charge of expanding the brand internationally also said that he wants teams to figure out how to stage NFL exhibitions in China. About a month ago, he suggested that the NFL was committed to playing a regular season game in China in 2018. I think the same three questions would obtain in that situation.

Well, it happened. Leicester City clinched the title in the English Premier League for this season. The team that was 5,000 to 1 to win the league when play began last Fall is indeed the league champ. You will hear and read loads of things about how they accomplished this and how improbable it was and what a great feel-good story it is. I want to focus on the money…

CBSSports.com reports that Leicester City could earn $218M by winning this championship. Here is the link to that report and the number cited is an estimate from a sports marketing entity in Europe. However, it is important to note that Leicester City only graduated to the EPL in 2014 after spending ten years in the Champions League in England – the highest of the “minor leagues” there. Only once in the club’s 132-year history have they finished as high as 2nd in the Premier League and that was back in 1929.

Last year – their first season in the EPL after promotion – was a rocky one. They were mired deep in the relegation zone with 9 games to play but the team won 7 of their final 9 games to finish comfortably in 14th place in the EPL Table. [Aside: The teams that finish 18th, 19th and 20th are the ones that are relegated to the Champions League each year.] Oddsmakers were unimpressed by those final 9 games last year and set the odds on Leicester City at 5000 to 1 to win the EPL this year – and now bookmakers are paying out huge sums.

According to this report from CBSSports.com, bookmakers in England alone will lose $11.4M on these payouts. Some of the books in England mitigated some of their losses by paying off bettors before the end of the season at reduced odds; other bettors chose to hang on and will collect the full amount of their wagers. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the total damage done to sportsbooks in England and in Nevada will be $15M and this report indicates some of the early wagers placed in Las Vegas on Leicester City.

Leicester City’s win here reinforces a fundamental belief deep in the psyche of every gambler:

    Low probability events happen every day…

Finally, I said above that these are sports rants and not political rants. Nonetheless, sometimes sports and politics intersect as with this comment from Brad Rock in the Deseret News:

“Meanwhile, Bobby Knight introduced Donald Trump at an Indiana rally.

“At first, everyone thought Knight was just another protester when he threw a chair and kicked the Gatorade cooler.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

RIP Blackie Sherrod

Blackie Sherrod died last week at the age of 96. He was a giant in the world of sports reporting. In addition to some of his own prose that you will see momentarily, he amassed a great staff of writers as the sports editors of the now defunct Fort Worth Press. That sports staff included Dan Jenkins, Bud Shrake and Gary Cartwright; all you can say about that lineup is, “Wow!”.

When asked how he managed to assemble such a great staff of sportswriters, Sherrod said that he did not hire sportswriters, he hired writers. He told an interviewer:

“Red Smith wasn’t a sportswriter. Jim Murray wasn’t a sportswriter. Jimmy Cannon wasn’t. There wasn’t a one who could tell you the definition of the infield fly rule.”

Last weekend, many writers took a moment to pay tribute to Blackie Sherrod. I think that Mike Bianchi’s tribute in the Orlando Sentinel was the best one I read:

“A Moment of Silence, please, Blackie Sherrod, the legendary sports columnist of the Dallas Morning News, has gone to That Big Pressbox in the Sky. Three of Blackie’s best lines:

    (1) On legendary quarterback Bobby Layne’s car accident: ‘After indulging in some heavy, late-night research with scholarly friends, Bobby was driving back to his hotel, innocently enough, when he was sideswiped by several empty cars lurking at curbside.’

    (2) On leveling the playing field: ‘In a perfect world, a fair world, Bob Hayes should be forced to carry a small calf on his shoulder when he runs the dashes, Mark Spitz would swim with a sea anchor and Ella Fitzgerald must sing every note with a mouth full of Tootsie Rolls.’

    (3) On an unknown tomato can fighter: ‘He has everything a boxer needs except speed, stamina, a punch, and ability to take punishment. In other words, he owns a pair of shorts.’”

Rest in peace, Blackie Sherrod…

It looks as if today’s offering could be easy to write if I just keep quoting the brilliant prose from others. So, to keep on that glide path, consider these three capstone comments from around the country about the totality of the NFL Draft from last week:

“If Ole Miss has to forfeit a bunch of football wins and scholarships, just think of it as a Tunsilectomy.” (Dwight Perry, Seattle Times)

And…

“Quarterback Carson Wentz of North Dakota State was chosen No. 2 overall by the Eagles at the NFL draft. Imagine one day you’re living in laid-back, friendly Fargo, and the next you’re in Philadelphia being booed on your way to breakfast.” (Brad Dickson, Omaha World-Herald)

And …

“The 81st NFL Draft wraps up in Chicago: Three days, seven rounds, 253 players, and if you paid much attention beyond your favorite team’s selection in the first round, please have yourself evaluated by a mental-health professional. Somewhere, the first 2017 Mock Draft is now out. Oh how I wish I were kidding.” (Greg Cote, Miami Herald)

ESPN.com will launch TheUndefeated.com on May 17. This site had come to be known as “The Black Grantland” and in its original incarnation Jason Whitlock was supposed to be in charge. For whatever reasons, that did not work out and the launch of the site was delayed. Kevin Merida – late of the Washington Post – is in charge now. Here is the site’s Statement of Purpose:

TheUndefeated.com will combine innovative long-form and short-form storytelling, original reporting and provocative commentary to enlighten and entertain African Americans, as well as sports fans seeking a deeper understanding of black athletes, culture and related issues. The name, The Undefeated, is inspired by a passage from American poet, author and civil rights leader Maya Angelou: ‘You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.’”

I mention this for two reasons. First, I want to visit the site to see what it has to offer and who is doing the writing there. But beyond that, the fact that the birthing of this website led to Jason Whitlock parting ways with ESPN – or vice versa? – brings up ESPN staffing issues. I have mentioned in the past that I believed ESPN lost a significant amount of talent over the last year or so with the departures of:

    Colin Cowherd
    Keith Olbermann
    Bill Simmons
    Jason Whitlock

Now it appears that more folks are in the process of departing “The Mother Ship” in Bristol, CT :

    Skip Bayless supposedly will leave ESPN to go to FOX Sports. Bayless and Stephen A. Smith spend far too much time “debating” various sports issues on ESPN’s daytime show, First Take. The poor woman who “moderates” those “debates” will be a candidate for sainthood when she passes simply because she put up with those non-stop bloviations without taking a machete to either or both of the participants. I can take Skip Bayless in small doses. His departure is not of the magnitude of the 4 folks above in my mind.

    Trent Dilfer is rumored to be on his way out as an NFL analyst. If indeed that is the case, ESPN will lose one its best analysts. It is not as if they do not have several dozen of them on staff, but if I were to “thin the herd” there and do it on the basis of quality of performance, Dilfer’s position would be in no danger.

    Brad Nessler is rumored to be on his way to CBS. Nessler is a mainstay of ESPN’s college football telecasts and the rumor is that he will go to CBS to do college football there with the idea that he will take over for Verne Lundquist on the SEC Game of the Week somewhere down the line. I like Nessler’s work; he is not “a screamer”. However, I like Verne Lundquist a lot and will be sorry when he does hang up his microphone.

    Mike Tirico supposedly will leave ESPN – and Monday Night Football – to go to NBC where that network does Sunday Night Football and will have five Thursday Night Football games late in the season starting this season. NBC also has the Olympics; Tirico’s versatility fits right in with broadcasting that sort of stuff.

Finally, when the Denver Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch last week, folks were quick to pronounce the Broncos “out of the QB market” and to put the kibosh on any trade rumors that had been out there. However, Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald may have reason to believe that the Broncos are still in the market for Colin Kaepernick:

“A rumor has Colin Kaepernick going to Denver. This would give the Broncos some much needed tattoo depth.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports……..

Serious Stuff And Silly Stuff Today…

Last night the Miami Marlins swept the LA Dodgers in a 4-game series and then got some bad news. Their All-Star second baseman and the guy who led the NL in hitting last year, Dee Gordon, will serve an 80-game suspension – through July 29 of this year – for failing a PED test. According to MLB, testing showed “exogenous testosterone” and “clostebol” (whatever they are) in Gordon’s samples and both of them are on MLB’s banned substance list.

Gordon maintains that he does not know how those substances got into his body and that he did not do this knowingly. That may be true, but we have heard that sort of explanation before… Gordon signed a contract extension with the Marlins in January 2016. That contract was for 5 years and a total of $50M. This season, his base salary is $3M and since this suspension is one without pay and it amounts to half a season, it will cost Gordon $1.5M

One more “baseball related item” if I may… I read that the SF Giants will give away Gaylord Perry bobblehead dolls on August 13th of this year. If I ever had a Gaylord Perry bobblehead, the first thing I would do would be to take a dab of Vaseline Petroleum Jelly and put it under the brim of the cap. But that’s just me…

I am not big on the argument that the ends justify the means because there are too many examples where the “means” are pretty obnoxious. However, in this case I will accept the result despite being underwhelmed by the basis for the decision.

According to a report in the NY Post, Syracuse University will get rid of its “Kiss Cam” on the Jumbotron because of a suggestion from someone that the Kiss Cam is in conflict with the efforts that colleges and universities are putting forth to combat sexual violence on campuses.

    1. I take a back seat to no one on Earth when it comes to declaring that Kiss Cam – or any other name you want to put on that abomination – is stupid, annoying, intrusive and horrid. I assume I have made myself clear here…

    2. I could even support a Constitutional Amendment to ban these things. [Actually that is hyperbole for effect. To get an amendment to the Constitution would require the involvement of the Congress and about the only thing that might make a Kiss Cam worse would be Congressional bloviation on the subject.]

    3. Having said that, anyone who thinks that Kiss Cam is even a minor component of the causes for sexual violence on campuses in the US is living in a delusion. Sexual violence on campuses is a serious problem; Kiss Cams are simply annoying.

Here is a link to the NY Post report on this matter.

The Daily Collegian at Penn State had a story recently alleging abuse by the gymnastics coaches – a husband and wife team – at that school. The abuse here is not sexual abuse; the allegations are about psychological and verbal abuse that – to my mind – seems to cross the line into “bullying”. Naturally, this report only represents one side of the story; these remain allegations and nothing more to this point. However, there is one point made in this story that convinces me that these allegations are serious. Women gymnasts who worked under these same coaches at Auburn as far back as 2003 also say that there were problematic issues:

“[The coaches] pushed women to train through injuries, sometimes making them feel as if they had to hide their physical pain.

“The women also said the coaches pressured their gymnasts to lose as much weight as possible, which led to some athletes developing eating disorders.

“Several former gymnasts, and parents of former gymnasts, said some athletes developed depression due to their mistreatment by the [coaches].”

And those are not necessarily the worst of the allegations made in this article. That is why I say this needs to be investigated thoroughly and quickly.

Here is a link to the report in The Daily Collegian.

Since some of you out there may be thinking of taking in a baseball game over the weekend, let me inform you of a couple of culinary extravaganzas you may encounter at the ballpark:

    The Cincy Reds offer up The Meat Lover’s Dog. That would be a bacon-wrapped hot dog along with fried salami and pulled pork and then topped with queso blanco and pickles. In case you are not familiar with queso blanco, it is an unaged cheese made from cow’s milk and is pretty much cottage cheese with much of the whey pressed out of the cheese. This offering sounds like it would be a stress test on your cholesterol medication…

    The Minnesota Twins will let you buy a Buffalo Chicken Bloody Mary. Seriously… This is a Bloody Mary with a Buffalo Chicken wing on a skewer inside it along with pieces of cheese and grilled polish sausage. If you really want to kick it up a notch [/Emeril Lagasse], you can add another skewer with a bacon cheeseburger slider on it. This offering sounds like something created by the folks who sell Pepto Bismol.

Finally, here is an item from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times:

“The U.S. Treasury announced plans to replace Andrew Jackson with Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill.

“Except in Alabama, where the locals are pushing for Nick Saban.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

The Intersection Of Sports And Jurisprudence

Deflategate is like a vampire; it will not die. Today, news comes that Jeanne Shaheen – US Senator from New Hampshire and former Governor of New Hampshire – has called upon the NFL to release the “PSI data” in its possession to demonstrate that indeed the NFL has “credible evidence” in the whole matter. No offense to Sen. Shaheen, but when a sports issue rises to the level that it attracts the attention of the Congress, you can be sure the story has achieved “vampire status”.

Just for fun, I went to Sen. Shaheen’s US Senate website and at the bottom the website lists “Jeanne’s Priorities”. In order, they are:

    Economy and Jobs
    National Security
    Fiscal Responsibility
    Energy

Evidently, “Deflategate” and “PSI data” somehow shoehorned themselves into those priorities.

Meanwhile, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times found a way to make light of a sidebar to this story. Tom Brady has expressed his support for Donald Trump during the Republican Presidential primaries. So, Dwight Perry juxtaposed Trump/Brady 2016 and came up with this:

“Destined to be a best-selling T-shirt in 31 of 32 NFL markets: ‘Make America inflate again.’”

The other story related to an NFL QB that could become a “vampire story” is the one related to Johnny Manziel. The latest development there is that Manziel has now been charged by a grand jury with “misdemeanor assault with bodily injury”; evidently, in Texas a conviction on such a charge could bring a penalty of a $5K fine and a year in jail. Manziel has until 5 May to turn himself in to the authorities in Texas; his bail has been set at $1,500 which should be an amount that he can readily post; he is not turning himself in to spend a long time in the hoosegow awaiting a trial.

There is a fine line indeed between a cynic and a realist and a lot depends on whether you agree with the person who might earn one of those labels. So call me a cynic if you must but somehow, I sense that the outcome of this matter will be something along these lines:

    Manziel agrees to take anger management rehab and/or alcohol rehab and the authorities retain the right to subject him to random drug/alcohol testing for some period of time.

    Manziel reaches a rapprochement with the victim – his former girlfriend – which includes a financial exchange, confidentiality clauses and her vow not to testify in any trial that might occur on these charges.

    Then, this incident goes away. But the story probably will not die until or unless Johnny Manziel becomes a hermit living somewhere in the Himalayas in a community of yetis.

There is one more intersection of sports and jurisprudence to note today. In 1989 – yes, 27 years ago – there was an event in England known as the Hillsborough disaster. Liverpool was playing Nottingham Forest in Hillsborough in an FA Cup game and a “human crush” occurred that wound up killing 96 people – all Liverpool fans. An investigation in 1990 concluded that the physical plant at the stadium and the fencing used to keep the crowds off the pitch caused the problems and changes were made to all football stadiums to remedy those situations. It would seem as if that matter had been settled more than 2 decades ago.

However, in 2009, the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport called for the release of all the information that the police and other authorities had provided to the investigation in 1990. With that information in hand, something known as the Hillsborough Independent Panel was created and after several years of analysis, that panel concluded that the fans were not responsible for the tragedy. Basically, it concluded that there had been a cover-up and there was some culpability on the part of the emergency services and other public entities.

Earlier this week, a new inquest into this matter concluded that the fans themselves were not responsible at all for the events that led to these deaths and that the folks who died that day were “unlawfully killed”. Here are some of the findings in the report earlier this week:

    The “Match Commander’s” actions amounted to gross negligence.

    Police planning errors contributed to the dangerous situation that developed on that day.

    Police and emergency responders “caused or contributed to the loss of life” by error or omission once the “human crush” began.

Here is a link to a lengthy report on what happened 25 years ago and what happened earlier this week.

To bring this full circle, it would seem that there is a parallel between Senator Shaheen’s call for release of data in Deflategate and the action of the British Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that led to the new findings earlier this week. On the surface it would seem that it took someone with social and political stature to “make the situation right”. To be sure, that parallel does exist. I would suggest, however, that the matter in England involved the death of 96 people and the matter here in the US involves a 4-game suspension from NFL games.

I do not care how big a fan of the New England Patriots one is or if you think that tom Brady is the most wonderful human being on the planet; Deflategate does not rise to the level of importance of the Hillsborough disaster.

Finally, since the NFL Draft starts tonight and since I cited a Dwight Perry comment above, here is another one from Professor Perry related to the NFL Draft:

“LaQuan McGowan, the 405-pound Baylor tight end, could become the heaviest player ever drafted by an NFL team.

“Besides 405, his other key stats are 6-7 (height), 5.41 (40 time) and 7.3 (Richter Scale).”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

NFL Officials Camp?

About a week ago, I read a report that the NFL and the Canadian Football League (CFL) had joined together to create an “officiating development program” that would seek to improve the quality of current officiating and to “raise up” the next generation of game officials. Some of the things mentioned as key parts of this joint effort were:

    NFL officials will work some games in the CFL in June and early July prior to their reporting to NFL Officials Camp in July. The idea here is that this will increase “time on the field” for those officials and sharpen their “football senses” as they head off to officials’ camp.

      [Aside: Who knew about “Officials Camp”? Clearly, there have to be such things to go over things like new rules and rule changes and the mechanics of officiating; but have there ever been reports originating from any activities there? If so, I missed them.]

    CFL officials will go to NFL minicamps and training camps and some will officiate in NFL exhibition games.

I certainly have no objection to either the CFL or the NFL undertaking any sort of constructive activity that intends to improve the in-game officiating. Surely, neither of the programs outlined above will hurt in-game officiating so it is hard to object to any of that. However, if part of the program is “developmental” in the sense of generating aa pipeline of new officials, I fail to see how anything described here would do anything to meet that objective.

The Washington Wizards hired Scott Brooks to be their coach last week; they game Brooks a 5-year deal worth $35M. Naturally, lots of the local sports yakkers on the radio jumped to the self-satisfying conclusion that this move was done as a prelude to signing Kevin Durant as a free agent this summer since Brooks had been his coach in OKC. Time will tell if that angle has even a smidgen of relevance. Nonetheless, this hire is potentially a good one for the Wizards.

Scott Brooks is a coach who teaches solid defense and demands that from his players. The Wizards need to play defense; a major reason why they are sitting at home watching the NBA Playoffs on TV is that their defense was somewhere between non-existent and pretty-awful in far too many games this year. Sure, the Wizards will become a better team if they happen to lure Kevin Durant to the DC area. They may also become a better team if they get their rears in gear and play some defense next season.

The LA Lakers fired Byron Scott. Frankly, I think that is a bit silly given that Scott had a roster that was destined to lose games and then had to administer the Kobe Bryant Farewell Tour for all of last year. However, in LA, the team needs to do something lest it lose spotlight time to the Clippers. Lots of suggestions have been made with regard to who the Lakers’ next coach ought to be. Naturally, Luke Walton’s name came out of the gate early. He is a logical candidate for the job as an ex-Laker player, a SoCal native and a guy who did awfully well as the stand-in coach of the Warriors last season.

It is exactly for those logical reasons that Walton will likely not get the job. In LA, things need “sizzle” more than they need “substance”. Walton is high on “substance” but not much on the “sizzle scale”. If you doubt the importance of sizzle over substance in LA, consider this:

    If substance counted for more than sizzle, there never would have been a second movie made where one could use the phrase, “starring Steven Segal”.

So, who might be a “sizzle candidate” – someone whose name would generate interest even if someone else actually got the job at the end of the day.

    Jay Wright: He is as hot a name as there is in college basketball for people not named Krzyzewski, or Calipari.

    Nancy Lieberman: She played the game; she is in the Hall of Fame; she has head coaching experience. And she has something no NBA head coach has ever had – – ovaries.

One more NBA note … The league is expanding its TV footprint to include sub-Saharan Africa. In a deal struck with Econet Media, the NBA will have at least 500 games televised live to sub-Saharan Africa starting next year. Games will be telecast in English, French and Portuguese based on the prominent language spoken in different regions of Africa. Econet is a major player in television and digital media in that part of the world. Obviously, the NBA is taking this expansion initiative seriously.

In the past week two NFL players received 4-game suspensions. Tom Brady had his suspension reinstated by a 3-judge panel in the US Court of Appeals; Demarcus Lawrence got 4 games for failing a drug test. The Brady suspension – linked inexorably to Deflategate – got much more attention along the lines of “what does this do to the team”. Personally, I think his suspension is less meaningful to the Pats than Lawrence’s suspension is to the Cowboys.

    The Pats open at Arizona and then play 3 home games against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills. Recall that the Pats went 11-5 with Matt Cassel at QB when Brady went down in the first half of the first game of the season; that was without time to prepare for Brady’s absence. My guess is that the Pats come out of that stretch with a 3-1 record or better.

    The Cowboys hope to make a big run this year with a healthy Tony Romo at QB. However, over on defense, the Cowboys have a problem with pass rushing and Lawrence had 8 sacks last year. Not only will he be gone for the first 4 games, so will Randy Gregory – who also flunked a drug test – and so will Greg Hardy unless Jerry Jones panics and signs him again to a 1-year incentive laden deal.

    The Cowboys open at home against the Giants, at the Skins, home against the Bears and then at the Niners. That is not a murderer’s row schedule, but it does have two division games against teams that could be very competitive if the Cowboys cannot pressure Eli Manning or Kirk Cousins. It is never good to lose a game in the NFL, but should the Cowboys lose two division games to open the season, it might get ugly in Dallas.

Oh, by the way, imagine if you will that Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory decide to room together for that 4-week suspension. I believe neither one of them is married so just consider it a possibility. If that happens, I would definitely be going long on marijuana futures…

Finally, Brad Dickson had this comment in the Omaha World-Herald regarding another athlete who had difficulty with a drug test:

“A rugby player in Italy tested positive for 11 banned substances. This makes him eligible for the Tour de France.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

RIP Milt Pappas

Milt Pappas died last week. When you consider that he spent 17 years in MLB winning 209 games and pitching 129 complete games, you would think that he would be remembered for his career. Pappas was twice an All-Star and over his career he struck out twice as many batters as he walked. Not bad at all; Milt Pappas was an accomplished player.

Nevertheless, he will be remembered more widely for something over which he had no control. After the 1965 season, he was traded from the Baltimore Orioles to the Cincinnati Reds along with Jack Baldschun (relief pitcher) and Dick Simpson (outfielder) for Frank Robinson. Of course, Robinson continued his career that landed him in the Hall of Fame (his career OPS was .926) and Robinson became the first player to win MVP Awards in both leagues.

Rest in peace, Milt Pappas.

News came late last week that ESPN fired baseball analyst Curt Schilling after Schilling seemingly ignored warnings to temper his social media remarks on the transgender issues that are controversial at the moment. Schilling’s views were stridently opposed to what many feel are important rights for transgender individuals and I am sure than many people took offense at his remarks. This is not the first time ESPN had to deal with controversy ignited by Schilling’s socio-political views on sensitive subjects. Last year, Schilling seemed to equate today’s Muslim extremists with the Nazis of the 1930s and 40s. As a result of those remarks, Schilling earned a suspension from ESPN.

In announcing the firing, ESPN had this to say:

“ESPN is an inclusive company. Curt Schilling has been advised that his conduct was unacceptable and his employment with ESPN has been terminated.”

As you may imagine, some folks who agree with Schilling’s stance on today’s transgender issue immediately screamed that his First Amendment rights had been violated. To steal one of HL Mencken’s favorite words:

“Buncombe!”

Just because ESPN is a media company and Schilling was working for them, this matter has nothing whatsoever to do with the First Amendment. This is a matter – plain and simple – of an employer telling an employee what is acceptable behavior and what is unacceptable behavior. In the situation where the employee repeatedly chooses “unacceptable behavior”, that leads to termination of employment. The First Amendment has nothing to do with that.

Last week, Bob Molinaro reported in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot that the Kutztown University football team found an interesting way to conclude their spring football game. Evidently the game ended in a tie and – fortunately – the coaches did not choose to use the college overtime rules to break the tie in that meaningless contest. Rather, they decided the outcome of the game with a series of rock/scissors/paper confrontations. How great is that?

Speaking of how great something is, how great is it to be the NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions for 2016. The Villanova Wildcats have had a parade in their honor in Philly; they will surely get an invite to the White House to meet the President and now the team – via the university to be sure – has received a donation of $22.6M to renovate their on-campus arena. The gift comes from Bill Finneran, a Villanova alum – no surprise there! – who is the founder of a hedge fund.

The on-campus arena, The Pavilion, needs a makeover. It seats only 6500 folks and has no suites or “luxury boxes”. That means that prime seats for Villanova home games have deep-pocketed supporters in them while students have to scramble for the leftovers. A major part of the renovation plan here is to put in suites for the pooh-bahs and to put student fans in the prime seating areas.

The Pavilion has a sort of interesting history. From the time that it opened in 1986 until 1997, the building was known as the John Eleuthère du Pont Pavilion, the man who provided major funding for the construction of the facility. The reason the du Pont name came off the building is the reason that name rings a distant bell in your memory.

    John Eleuthère du Pont was the man who became enamored with amateur wrestling and pentathlon sports and started a wrestling training facility at his Foxcatcher Farm in Delaware. Ultimately, he was convicted of the shooting death of Olympic wrestling champion Dave Schultz in 1997. At that point, the name of the Villanova facility simply became known as “The Pavilion”.

Back in the 1970s, the Cincinnati Royals of the NBA moved west to become the Kansas City/Omaha Kings. The team split their home town affiliation from 1972 to 1975 before settling down in Kansas City and then ultimately moving to Sacramento in 1985. Omaha then hosted a team in the Continental Basketball Association for a while but the city has been without professional basketball since 1997. However, last week the Omaha Chargers came into existence as a franchise within the newly emerging National Basketball League of America – the NBLA. The league proposes a 20 game schedule between September and November.

At the moment, the NBLA has only three franchises; the Omaha Chargers, the Sioux City Hornets and the Dakota Magic. That paucity of teams led Brad Dickson of the Omaha World-Herald to make this observation:

“You think it looks bad when an NBA team doesn’t make the playoffs?”

Finally, here is one more observation from Brad Dickson:

“The Lehigh valley Ironpigs minor league baseball team has a new concession item, bacon on a stick. Isn’t eating this basically a cry for help?

“How about something a wee bit healthier? Say crack burgers?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

RIP Jerry Greene

Jerry Greene, sports columnist for the Orlando Sentinel, passed away earlier this week. He was an e-mail pen-pal and his column From the Cheap Seats was the source of some of the closing quips that I use in these rants. I never met him in person but he was a wonderful “electronic acquaintance”.

Rest in peace, Jerry Greene…

Well, Drew Rosenhaus carried through on his promise. He dropped Johnny Manziel as a client because Manziel did not seek the counseling/help that Rosenhaus said was a prerequisite to their maintaining an agent/client relationship. It is not difficult to note here that this is a monumental event because it represents a situation where a sports agent actually told the truth about what he was about to do. It is also easy to point out that Rosenhaus was able to maintain an agent/client relationship with other NFL players with a “notorious streak” such as Plaxico Burress, Josh Gordon and Greg Hardy. However, this matter involves things of much greater gravity that than.

    [Aside: Recall that this is the second sports agent to drop Manziel. Earlier this year, Eric Burkhardt announced that he had terminated his agent/client relationship with Manziel citing essentially the same issues that Rosenhaus has alluded to here.]

Johnny Manziel is in the process of flushing whatever possible career he may have had in the NFL down the commode of life. Frankly, that is his action to take and just as frankly, I do not particularly care about his “possible career’. He is also in the process of ruining his life and possibly damaging the lives of others as he continues his non-stop participation in the “partying scene”. Many folks look at his “partying behavior” as merely youthful indiscretions that will sort themselves out with maturity. The problem here is that some fraction of the population gets to a point where maturity is not enough to give them the ability to say “Enough is enough!”. I am not competent to make a diagnosis here, but I have seen enough of life to recognize that Johnny Manziel is awfully near a precipice – if indeed he has not already gone over it.

Manziel insists that it is his intention to play NFL football in 2016 and for years after that. That stands in stark contrast with the fact that he remains unsigned by any team despite the fact that several teams could use a “quarterback upgrade”. Just as he seems to be unable to control his partying behaviors, he seems not to be able to recognize that teams and GMs are moving ahead without him. What seems patently obvious to many others seems to be completely opaque to him.

There is another depressing sort of story rumbling around in the sports world today. Sheryl Swopes was a star player in the WNBA and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. When her career finished, she decided to go into coaching. She spent two seasons as an assistant coach at Mercer Island High School in suburban Seattle. Then in 2013, she took the job as the head coach of the women’s basketball program at Loyola, Chicago.

Swopes said that she intended to put Loyola ‘on the map” in women’s college basketball; her stated intention was for Loyola to compete with programs such as UConn, Notre Dame and Tennessee and that she was taking the long view because achieving that stature was not possible as a “quick fix”. She has been at Loyola for 3 seasons now and the team record for that period is 31-62; if the goal is to be like UConn, Notre Dame and/or Tennessee, winning one out of 3 games over a 3-year stretch is not a good imitation at all.

Now things get a lot worse. Loyola announced that it is embarking on a full investigation of the women’s basketball program in the wake of:

    Ten of the twelve players on the team with remaining eligibility have requested releases from the school so that they can go elsewhere to play – and –

    An unspecified number of those players have alleged “player mistreatment” within the Loyola program.

I have not read any reports that specify the sort of “player mistreatment” alleged here but those sorts of allegations placed in juxtaposition with that number of players asking out of the program has to be worrisome. Here is a link to a recent ESPN.com report on this matter. Somehow, I do not think this will end well…

In a strange move, the Carolina Panthers rescinded the franchise tag they had on CB, Josh Norman, and simply released him making him a free agent. Norman was a large part of the Panthers’ defense that took the team to the Super Bowl last year; to say that this move was unexpected would be the understatement of the month. This move is so unusual that I suspect there will be some sort of angle to this story that becomes known somewhere down the road; my “spider sense” is tingling here…

On a more upbeat note, Ohio State set a record recently for the largest attendance at a spring football game. The school announced that “more than 100,000” fans showed up at Ohio Stadium (aka “The Horseshoe”) for the spring intrasquad game. When packed to the gills for a real game, “The Horseshoe” holds 104,944 so there wasn’t all that much extra space in there for that exhibition game.

Finally, let me close with a quip by Jerry Greene formerly of the Orlando Sentinel that I have had on my clipboard for a couple of months:

“Beijing had dangerous air pollution, and Rio has water pollution out of a cheap horror movie. What’s next? Perhaps holding the Olympics atop an active volcano? (Of course it would be a great opening ceremony to watch on TV.)”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………