The fact that this year's Olympic games are held in China should not detract from the athletes on display and their many accomplishments, but if you have even an iota of a social conscience, the 2008 games may rub you the wrong way from their onset. Personally, it's distracting for me to see a country with a long history of human rights abuses become the center of the sporting world and the focus of endless coverage on the NBC family of networks. China's most recent support for the Sudanese government's atrocities in the Darfur region are only the latest chapter in the how-to book the country has written on alienating the international community and disregarding the rights of human beings (Tiananmen Square anyone?). I never thought that Beijing should be given the games in the first place, but when you add rampant pollution and intense levels of secrecy to their less than stellar history of violence and oppression, I think that it becomes obvious that this year's games are not only about sport and athletic competition, but also about the world's uneasy realization that China is on the rise both economically and politically.

The most recent issue of Adbusters explores the rise of China in the global socio-economic structure in great detail, examining a country that is setting itself up to usurp the United States as the world's true superpower. Whether or not the Chinese will succeed in their aims to dominate the global conversation on a variety of topics is still up for debate, with their pollution and food resource problems limiting the impact of an economy that refuses to slow down. The aforementioned Adbusters helps point out the many problems that the Chinese government has helped create in its struggle for global supremacy and points to a country that is trying to create a figurative wall around itself to stand alongside the Great one made of stone and mortar. Just because cyclists are now free to win medals on a ride atop the wall that used to insulate the country from its enemies does not take away from the fact that the Chinese government is an oppressive regime that is redefining what autonomy means. These factors have turned China into an an unnerving backdrop for the Olympics, where world leaders gathered in the games' first few days to see the up and comer that could threaten their old-world ideas about who's on top globally. I don't like to use Adbusters as source material for my opinions as it has a tendency to exaggerate and infuriate when it could educate and enlighten, but hearing some of the world's leading intellectuals' thoughts on China re-aligned my view of the Olympic games and the country as a whole. A book on China's rise is on my reading list for the summer and until I know more I'll stop preaching and move on to what the Olympics are really all about: athletic competition.

Any conversation about this year's games must start with Michael Phelps, who set the Olympic record for medals in one games with an incredible 8. The fact that Phelps won 8 medals is in itself an amazing accomplishment, but the amount of drama in some of the finishes and the world-record breaking pace at which he won several races made him the dominant story without question. Phelps is a specimen of a human being and the world may never see a single athlete dominate an Olympic games like he did in Beijing this year. This guy's a once-in-a-generation type of talent in the pool and deserves all praises for his golden summer at this year's games. Where I start to get uneasy is when people start talking about him as the greatest athlete in the world. While 8 gold medals and a dominant performance at the biggest stage in sport will get you into the conversation about the world's greatest athlete, I can't believe the amount of chatter I've heard that he is hands down the owner of that title. Maybe I'm just too Americanized for this debate, but I could never call a swimmer the world's greatest athlete, the same way I could never give Tiger Woods that title because he is a golfer.

Granted, swimming is more athletic than golf (you can't swim and smoke a cigar at the same time for example) and though Tiger is probably the world's greatest competitor, Roger Federer has more of a claim to the title than Phelps or Woods combined. He's dominant in his sport and his sport is a physically grueling task. I think that I agree with former U.S. Olympian Bruce Jenner, who claimed to great controversy that Phelps could never be considered the greatest Olympian because all he does is swim. Jenner was saying that the decathlon is the best measure of an athlete, with running, jumping, throwing etc. indicating a more complete and impressive body of work. Phelps, Woods and Federer are the most dominant athletes in their particular sport and I don't take that away from them, but you can't tell me that they're better athletes than Kobe Bryant, Terrell Owens or even this year's gold medal winner in the decathlon, Bryan Clay. Maybe I'm being too hard on Phelps because he's become such a dominant headline in this year's games, but it could also have to do with the fact that he went to Michigan, which can sully even the nicest guy's allure for this writer. Anyways, there are other things from this year's games to be talked about, so I'll borrow a bit from Peter King and do some quick hits on things "I think I think".

  • The USA Men's basketball took home the gold this year, living up to their media-created moniker, The Redeem Team. After frankly getting embarrassed in Athens four years ago, the new and improved men's hoopers ran through their preliminary contests with ease on the way to the gold medal game against Spain. The game itself was surprisingly close considering that the teams' first meeting ended in a 30 point victory for the U.S. The gold medal game was a contest with NBA playoff type excitement and while the U.S. won by 11, the final score defied how gritty of a performance the Spanish men put on. It was great to see how honestly excited the entire U.S. team was and the world's greatest player Kobe Bryant proved once again that he is one of the sport's all-time great clutch athletes. Kobe had his hand in 15 consecutive points down a critical stretch in the fourth quarter, either assisting or scoring to help the team seal a victory.
  • Usain Bolt's performance on the track was awe-inspiring. It mirrored Phelps' dominance in the pool and his size compared to the other runners just adds to the fact that you can't take your eyes off of him when he's running. He's got a beautiful stride and graceful balance that left everybody else in the dust in the 100 and 200 meters and set world and Olympic records in the process.
  • The whole controversy over the age of the female Chinese gymnasts is very disconcerting. I alluded to the Chinese penchant for secrecy at the beginning of this post and for that reason I was not at all surprised when the young athletes were suspected of being a little too young. I mean seriously, gymnasts have a way of hiding their age because of their size and physiques, but those girls looked fresh off of the monkey bars, not the uneven bars. You have to be at least 16 to compete in the events, and it's now coming to light that a couple of the Chinese "women" are only 14. I don't even know if I buy that quite frankly.
  • The opening and closing ceremonies at this year's games were simply breathtaking, leaving the planners for the 2012 games in London with a lot to think about. I can't see them topping the amazing level of precision and aesthetic beauty in the Chinese ceremonies, which were nothing short of incredible. A friend of mine told me via text message that she was crying as she watched the opening ceremonies because of their sheer beauty, which pretty much speaks for itself. Maybe you shouldn't have hosted the games in the first place China, but you sure know how to put on a damn good show, so kudos on that at least.

That's it for my Olympic observations, stay tuned for a post about my obsession with college football and the anticipation that is boiling over in my blood to watch this year's Ohio State Buckeyes.




Well, the Brett Favre saga has finally come to what appears to be an end. The speculation as to what would happen to Favre after his un-retirement has been the dominant sports story for seemingly the past few years, when in reality he has only usurped all other headlines for around a month or so. The Green Bay Packers decided not to take the face of their franchise back, instead opting to deal the legendary QB to the New York Jets and pin their own hopes on the arm of the young Aaron Rodgers. I explored my distain for this story in the previous post (scroll down if you’re in to that sort of thing) and while I am happy that the Favre/Green Bay limbo is finally through, the end result has not changed my opinion on Favre, the Packers or the media.

Favre still comes out of this looking narcissistic and egomaniacal, and the Packers still look level headed and have their sights set firmly on the future. The media attention paid to this story is warranted to a degree, because I can’t remember a more compelling off-season hysteria like this in pro football in my lifetime. While ESPN has nauseated me with its blanketing, make that tarp-like coverage of the whole ordeal, the fact that the Packers shunned their hall-of-fame QB because of their need to move forward and because of his attitude is still rather surprising. The NFL, more than any other sport, is a business first meritocracy. If you’re the best at your position, you’re the one that plays there, bottom line. The only exceptions to this rule in the past have been when players put themselves too far ahead of the team’s best interests, as in the case of guys like Keyshawn Johnson and Terrell Owens, who both made early exits from the Bucs and Eagles respectively for attempting to poison the locker room to a cataclysmic degree.

It seems that the only logical assertion to be made in the Favre situation is that his return to Green Bay would have harmed the team’s chances in the upcoming season. Not because he isn’t the best man for the job, which he clearly is, but because his attitude and the level of attention he was garnering would have been horrible for a young and upcoming squad like the Packers. In my mind, that’s the decision the front office and coaching personnel in Green Bay made: “We love you Brett, but you’re going to do us harm if we let you come back”. It’s almost like that old boyfriend or girlfriend who wants you to forgive them after an infidelity and no matter how much you think it would be bad for you, you think about doing it. If the Packers were me and Favre were a girl, they would have folded like a bad hand in poker and taken him back, but they showed a level of professionalism and resolve that could go down in NFL history as one of the best decisions ever made.

Why do I think so? Because Favre is on the last three years of his career at best, with a more likely timetable of two more quality years in the NFL. Then his body will finally give out and no matter how much he wants the attention, he will have to at long end remain retired. Therefore the Packers were able to move on more quickly, keep Aaron Rodgers (who will end up being a damn good NFL quarterback, mark my words) and avoid a media circus throughout training camp and on into the regular season. Not only that, but they avoided sending Favre where he wanted to go, the Pack’s division rival Minnesota Vikings and instead sent him to the AFC. The Jets being outside their conference, Green Bay won’t even meet New York for two more seasons, by which time Brett might already be riding off into the sunset.

Now on to the New York Bretts…er…Jets. In the interest of full disclosure, I stole that from some guy on ESPN because I love a good play on words. Anyhow, they’ve made a move that might just get them back in the playoffs and should at least make for some entertaining football now that Favre and the Jets will meet Tom Brady and the Patriots two times a season. They simultaneously released their starting QB Chad Pennington, a Marshall grad who has run into both arm strength and injury problems during his tenure as a Jet. He was getting a run for his money from back-up Kellen Clemens this past year, and will most likely fair better with the team that recently signed him, the Miami Dolphins. I heard a talking head on ESPN call Pennington “flat out bad” and I really feel like that is an unfair assessment of Chad’s ability. The guy hasn’t been able to avoid injuries during the better part of his career and it’s not like he had a Pro Bowl squad surrounding him at any point. Favre will find that inheriting the QB position in New York is a daunting task, not only because of the fact that the city is a media tempest, but because that team just isn’t ready for prime-time at this point. I thought that Pennington would end up in either the role Favre was after as the Vikings signal caller, or put both Kyle Orton and Rex Grossman to shame in a three way battle for the Bears’ QB spot, but he ended up in Miami where Bill Parcels is running the show. Parcells drafted Pennington when he was the head coach in New York and since he’s now the behind the scenes shot caller in Miami, it's not at all surprising Chad is a Dolphin. It follows Bill's trend of bringing in “Parcells guys” when he switches venues and will help a team that is in dire need of some stability at the quarterback position. So the Favre drama is put at (somewhat) of an arm’s length (for now).


This year’s pennant races stirred up a little bit of a bugaboo for me, which is the outright buying and selling of talent down the playoff stretch. This rampant selling off and adding on of players is not only a problem in baseball, but in the national pastime it seems to be an all-out bidding war every year when the trade deadline comes around. Not only that, but this year especially big-name talent is moving around from team to team as pennant races tighten up and the run for playoff positioning begins in earnest. It’s a strange phenomenon when losing teams simply give up on guys that could be the core of their future success to dump salaries or acquire even more young prospects which they will eventually probably deal in coming years at the trade deadline. Multiple unproven prospects for proven ability is usually the exchange in a lot of sports, not just baseball, but it just seems like many teams just won’t sit and wait for guys to pan out anymore. Manny Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, Ken Griffey Jr. and Adam Dunn (the latter both being Cincinnati Reds’ players) all switched squads, and their proven ability sent a lot of no-name minor leaguers and lesser known utility players to new teams in the swap. Not only that, but we should be ready for more to come as baseball’s waiver wire heats up. Gary Sheffield of the Tigers just hit the waiver wire after he moaned about a lack of playing time and will probably end up as yet another hired gun on a team trying to make the playoffs or win the whole she-bang.

I understand that baseball is a business at its core and entertainment is always its aim, but winning at the cost of your future has become the move du-jour among any team within a mile of making the playoffs these days. I’m afraid when I tell my children about the guys I grew up watching like Alan Trammell and “Sweet” Lou Whitaker of the Detroit Tigers, who stayed with the club for their entire careers, the story will become as alien to them as legends my dad and uncles told me of the glory days of their baseball. The game changes at lightning speed nowadays and I’m just afraid that the lack of team loyalty, which has for so long been blamed on money-hungry ball players, will actually be eradicated by winning obsessed owners and team presidents, who will stop at nothing to claim victory now. This win yesterday mentality is going to end up poisoning sports for a lot of guys and gals my age as we get older and the generation behind us is probably going to understand free-agency and the waiver wire better than I understand the actual ins and outs of the game of baseball. It used to be that owners were all about money and the players were all about the game. Then the Black Sox Scandal proved that the players were also all about the money, just like the owners they were railing against. Then the players’ salaries inflated to such breathtaking amounts that owners cried foul at their greed. Now the bottom line might as well be chalked onto the field alongside the bases, where cash is the only language both sides seem to speak anymore. I might be getting a bit jaded, but then again I might be witnessing the last throws of a battle between baseball and football for the American sports fan’s soul. Football, the intense and brutal meritocracy of sport, is built for this type of money-grubbing and win-now bullshit. I never thought my precious baseball was set on such an untoward path, but I now see even football players and owners as comparative bastions of loyalty and pride. Oh, me.

I hope to post again soon, so stay tuned for a few thoughts on the Olympics, both sporty and political.