There have been a lot of negative things said about the time in which we live. The rapid expansion and influence of the internet has led us full steam ahead into the Information Age, where data, news, and opinion are created, consumed and disseminated at increasingly faster rates. We want to know what's happening now, why it's happening, and what is going to happen next before a lot of the information that reaches us can be absorbed and digested properly.

Critics of the Information Age will tell you that this is breeding a populace that cannot wait for anything anymore. We want results and we want them fast. We click the mouse, we want the link to work, we enter the Google search, we want the desired information at our fingertips immediately, we go to school, we want the cushy job waiting for us on the other side of the graduation ceremony. 

The immediacy of culture is not slowing down, and it can often put us in an uncomfortable set of circumstances when things don't shake out the way we want post haste.

Two things I witnessed this week point to the sort of thing I'm getting at here, and they happened on two opposite sides of the importance spectrum. The first is the debut of the new-look Miami Heat, led by a three-headed monster of basketball talent that features LeBron James (arguably the best player on the planet), Dwayne Wade, and Chris Bosh. The three teamed-up over the summer to form what is already considered one of the most talented line-ups in NBA history, and this week we finally got to see them play regular season basketball together.

The Heat transformed their roster in what can only be called the most auspicious manner possible, with James announcing he was going to "take his talents to South Beach" in an hour long spectacle on ESPN, which was quickly followed by a WWE-style entrance for the three in Miami, replete with smoke, fireworks and the trio dancing on stage in front of a packed auditorium of their supporters and fans. This unmitigated attention grabbing and the talent of the three players involved has left the sporting world foaming at the mouth with anticipation and critics already setting their sights on the Heat Index, ready to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

That first sign came Tuesday night, when the Heat fell to the defending Eastern Conference Champion Boston Celtics 88-80 in the opening game of the NBA season. Already, the critics are putting forth their opinions. While the more level-headed are pointing to the fact that the season is 82 games long, and one game does not a season make, many are already discovering the cracks in the Miami facade and registering their disappointment.

I am not one to judge a team on one performance (and the Heat did rebound to beat the 76ers one night later in Philly by the way) against the best team in their conference, but it goes to show that when you intentionally fan the flames of hype, folks will try and extinguish that fire in nanoseconds if the result isn't as-promised, even if it is only the first game of the season. The Heat are at the focus of a media electron microscope, and their every move will be shadowed, analyzed and picked apart until the forest is made near invisible by the study of the trees. 

I think the Heat will be dominant this season and in many to come, which I mentioned in my post about James' move to Miami, and it frustrates me to no end that sports fans will now have to endure a game-by-game breakdown of their progression throughout the NBA season. The sports media lives to make snap judgments, and the Heat only focused their attention in the off-season, but this is some of the most nausea-inducing "what have you done for me lately" BS that I can remember in my years of watching sports. The Information Age is rearing it's ugly head early this NBA season and shows no signs of tucking it away any time soon.

All of this nonsense is, as I said, at one end of the importance spectrum. The other end of that spectrum is just about upon on us here in the United States, where election day looms on the horizon. The midterm elections are a referendum for any president's policies, especially one whose party controls both houses of Congress. As such, President Obama is surely feeling the heat right now. The country remains economically stagnant to a large degree, with unemployment teetering around the 10% mark nationally and anger growing among the opposition by leaps and bounds (and stomps too, if you happen to live in Kentucky).

The democrats and Obama in particular are feeling the pressure of being the party in power at the midterm, but it seems to me that the Information Age is giving his policies and the administration as a whole a bit of a raw deal. Like the aforementioned Miami Heat, Obama cannot claim that he didn't help create the hype that surrounds him, running on a platform of hope and change and lofty ideals that would have been difficult for any one man to live up to, let alone one that entered the office of president amidst an economic maelstrom not seen since the Great Depression. It's been two years and folks aren't satisfied. Their driveways aren't filled with gold-plated Rolls Royces, their fat rolls haven't magically turned into washboard stomachs and there are still blind folks everywhere whose sight has not yet been restored.

Obviously, our exalted leader hasn't delivered, right? Come on. The man's been given two years to rebuild an economy, create enough jobs to keep the entire country working, and bridge the partisan gap between Republicans and Democrats that has been widening steadily for over a century. I voted for Obama not as the lesser of two evils, but because he was the guy I thought could turn things around. I'm going to give him more than two years to do so, and you can count me among the more pragmatic of his supporters in saying that I didn't expect things to be covered in milk and honey at this point in time. We all knew we were in for a long haul if things were going to start heading in the right direction in this country, both culturally and politically.

It's why President Obama's interview with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show Wednesday night was a very satisfying half-hour of television for this viewer, and brought to mind some parallels to the sports media's treatment of the Heat. I'm a big Stewart fan and I consider him among the greatest satirists of his age, armed with intellect, sagacity and an indelible wit that acts as a hot knife through much of both political parties' rancid butter. 

An appearance on The Daily Show goes a long way towards swaying the opinion of twenty-something America, and Jon Stewart has established himself as an influential voice in American politics, especially on the left. The President appeared before an audience that voted for him in droves in 2010, and it was a big deal that he stepped onto The Daily Show set mere days before the midterm election and before Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Stewart sank his teeth into Obama, grilling him with tough questions and even mocking some of the President's more pat responses. The host's plucky interrogation is exactly what fans of show should have expected, the President included. 

And I think you could tell that ol' Barry knew what he was up against, because his responses proved once again that he is a thoughtful, involved, and perspicacious Commander in Chief.  It was clear that he understood Stewart's larger point, that the type of youthful, interested, and enthusiastic folks that watch his show and voted for Obama are among those who feel more than a bit let down after these first two years. The President, while perhaps leaning a bit too far towards pedantry at times, confronted the problems that Stewart presented and preached a mantra of patience and hard work, something that will rub anybody who lives in the Information Age the wrong way. 

Tough shit, says this writer. A lot of media-types criticized the Miami Heat players for putting out the tired cliche that "Rome wasn't built in a day" after their loss to the Celtics, and I think if you had to sum up the President's response to Stewart's criticisms, that old adage would be an apt tag line for his administration as well. Sure it's cliche, but by god if it isn't true. Teams need more than one game to prove their mettle in the sporting world and presidents deserve more than two years in the White House during the middle of a financial and economic crisis to show that they meant what they said on the campaign trail. 

The phrase that keeps coming to mind for me in both cases is "deferred gratification". It's a pair of words that first hit home when I read Cornell West's Democracy Matters, and it's something that he believes our society lacks more and more with each coming day. Our unwillingness to embrace this idea of delayed fulfillment is a result of a culture that focuses on fame, sex, and wealth more than knowledge, love, and understanding. West tells his readers that if we as a society aren't willing to work hard and wait the necessary time for the best things in life, we might never see them come. Even worse, we might be unable to enjoy those good things when they do finally get here.

Whether it be the fate of a sports franchise or the fate of our country, I hope we can all take a deep breath in the coming year and know that great things are possible through hard work and optimism. A knowledge of our ability to triumph in the face of adversity is one of the most enduring lessons of our humanity and one that we must not forget in the present and near future.

Let's give LeBron and Barack a chance to get things right. I'm willing to bet that neither will disappoint.



There's a few things on my mind right now as far as sports goes, so I thought I'd offer up a little olio this post. With the four major American sports all at some level of activity, maybe we can try and touch 'em all...


Gotta start where the last post left off, talking about America's Pastime. I mentioned in my ode to baseball that the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers both faced uphill climbs in their respective Championship Series', but both teams have found a way to take the advantage thus far. The Rangers are up 3-2 on the Yanks as the series heads back to Arlington, and as I strike the keys I've just finished watching the Giants go up 3-1 on the Phillies on a Juan Uribe sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth that gave SF a 6-5 win in game four.

I have to say I'm excited by the idea of a Giants/Rangers World Series, not only to get a couple of fresh teams in the Fall Classic but because both squads teem with exuberance and personality. Brian Wilson (no, not that Brian Wilson) alone has enough charisma to carry a playoff series, but with great stories like Josh Hamilton (who continues what will be a life-long battle with substance abuse) and a couple of pitching phenoms like Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum to boot, it would be an entertaining and hopefully widely watched series. Sure the MLB would have to get over losing out on two huge markets like Philly and NYC, but the rest of the country might not mind. Although considering how many people skipped watching Cliff Lee's dominant performance Monday night in the Bronx to check out an NFL blowout, who knows?


Speaking of the NFL, this weekend was a particularly brutal one as far as big hits went, and the league has taken notice. I watched most of Sunday's games with a group of friends around a big old TV, and we were privy to a handful of hits that had more than a few of us turning our heads to wince. Some fools got jacked this weekend, that's for sure, and now the NFL brass is coming forward to try and limit the violence that is so prevalent in the game. 

The blows leveled on 5'10", 175 lb. DeSean Jackson and the completely defenseless Todd Heap certainly make the NFL's case if you'd like to go ahead and take a gander...

Then again, you might just be thinking what I'm thinking, that the new policy the Shield is putting forward of fines and suspensions for helmet-to-helmet hits and "devastating" tackles on defenseless receivers runs more than a little counter to the product they've been pushing for decades on end. Most news sources have already pointed out that the NFL was selling pictures on its website of some of the hits called into question this weekend, which takes the cake as far as a two-faced gesture is concerned, but it really is laughable for the Shield to blatantly try and piss on the fans and tell them its raining.

Football thrives because of its violence and brutality. Unlike most sports, where knocking the other guy to the ground is deemed to be an avoidable situation that results in penalty or discipline, football and hockey make it part of the action. Neither sport can claim that they want to limit the amount of big hits or violence, because the defensive side of their games rely on physical play and knocking the other dood on his ass. 

I can understand the NFL going to great lengths to avoid any more concussion backlash, considering what science is discovering about athletic concussions and permanent damage, but there's absolutely no way to have the game stay the same and tone down the violence. Football and hockey exist in a violent world and owe much if not all of their allure to the physical nature of the contests. 

The audience wants to see guys get decleated, snot-bubbled, and jacked up, and the NFL has never done anything but promote and sell the product the public is looking for. For them to try and change course midstream after a particularly cringe-worthy weekend of hits is the definition of hypocritical. Ray-Ray agrees with me and so do the majority of NFL defenders. Hell, James Harrison says he's willing to retire if he can't play the game the way he's been taught to play it. He's bluffing, but it shows how much these guys think of themselves as one-man wrecking crews when they strap that helmet on. After all, these lads are out to hurt each other, Tommy.


The closer we get to the season, the more the Carmelo Anthony rumor mill heats up. He's turned down yet another huge offer from the Nuggets to stay in Denver, and he's all but bought his plane ticket out of town, whether that flight happens before, during, or after the season is all that's left to settle. The Knicks now appear to be close to putting together a package that would send Melo to NYC, and after the Nuggets watched LeBron send the Cavs the world's most mean spirited Dear John letter via his "Decision" on ESPN, I'm guessing they want more in return than a bad taste in their mouth for their franchise player.

They'll likely get a bag of garbage from the Knicks, which will include some expiring contracts and Eddie Curry (you make the call as to which is worse) but the more important thing to note here is that this is going to completely destroy the Nuggets chances of remaining a contender. Not only will their best player (and one of the top 10 in the league) be leaving town, but their veteran point guard Chauncey Billups is very close to Melo and Kenyon Martin is already pitching a fit about his new contract. Both players might decide to follow suit and join Carmelo in leaving. So whenever Mr. La La's exodus happens, it will likely set in motion a chain of events that will put the Nuggets back at square one for years to come. Sorry Denver, just remember you do have Timothy Richard to help you through it all.

Well, I suppose that'll do for now. I hit three of the four major sports and at least mentioned hockey, so my work here is done for now. Keep close (Bo Jackson's) Hipsters, I ain't done yet.



As October rolls right along and the fall begins in earnest, the sporting world in America hits what I like to call its sweet spot. The college football season is at its midway point, the NFL season is beginning to take shape, regular season hockey is starting up and the first whiffs of the NBA season can be found in the air as the Association's preseason gets underway. More important than any of that of course, is that the baseball playoffs have begun and with them a rejuvenation of the little boy in this writer, the one that still clings to the National Pastime as the absolute paradigm of grace and elegance in sport. 

Say what you want about the Steroid Era and how boring the game is to watch, for myself and many others, baseball is the ultimate game in many ways. Granted I might be a bit biased as I come off the high of a week in which I watched Ken Burns' Baseball: The Tenth Inning and fell asleep twice with Field of Dreams on the Netflix as I drifted off into dreamland. Nevertheless, I cannot wait for the League Championship Series and the World Series to start playing themselves out. This baseball season in particular has been a fantastic return to form for the game, which is beginning to shake off the last vestiges of the steroid era and complete "The Year of the Pitcher", which will hopefully lead to "The Era of the Pitcher" if we're really lucky.

Yes, baseball saw it's greatest days when freakishly big, performance-enhanced meat heads were killing the ball and sending home runs into the upper atmosphere at record pace, but for a purist like me, there's nothing better than a good pitching duel. This year's playoffs have given us gem after gem when it comes to pitching performances already and this should come as absolutely no surprise to fans of the game. The juice is gone and now the guys on the mound are back on an even playing field. The divisional match-ups (the wild-card round if you're nasty) that just finished up were replete with nearly every elite arm the sport has to offer.

Tim Lincecum, CC Sabbathia, David Price, Cliff Lee and the indomitable Roy Halladay have all given us much to awe at, especially ol' Doc Halladay, who pitched the game's first playoff no-hitter since Don Larsen of the New York Yankees threw a perfect game against the rival Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series. With so many of the league's best hurlers on display, this year's playoffs feel like baseball's topsy-turvy ride through the steroid-tainted nineties and aughts has finally leveled out and balance has been restored. Pitching is now just as important as hitting, which always used to be the case anyways.

I've written before about why I love baseball so much. The psychological warfare between hitter and pitcher, the chess match strategy between the managers, the incredible anticipation and graceful athleticism of the defense, the hitter connecting with a 90 mile per hour round ball with a round bat and sending it out and above the lush green grass of the outfield. Yeah, there a lot of reasons to love this game, but as Ken Burns points out in the latest addendum to his Baseball series for PBS, the game owes much of its enduring appeal to the fact that it has changed so little over the century or so since its inception.

The game we watch now is nearly identical to the one folks used to watch on makeshift fields built on empty farmland in the late 19th century. Baseball has a historical allure that few other sports can claim and a connection to the American way of life that is impossible to ignore. If you don't believe me, check out this clip from Field of Dreams. James Earl Jones lays it all out for us as the writer Terrence Mann, a central character in the film that has been brought to Iowa to remember the golden sheen of his childhood as a baseball fan and to try and convince his new pal Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) that people will indeed come to the field he has built in the middle of his cornfield, bank foreclosure be damned.

I nearly cry every time I watch that, no bullshit. For a baseball fan, it's just absolutely true in every way. The game has a purity that cannot be marred, not by the Black Sox scandal (which is at the heart of the plot of Field of Dreams) or the Steroid Era or the greed of players and team owners or the nerdy minutiae that has come with the influence of sabermetrics. It's a game that lacks the violence of football or hockey and doesn't quite have the flash and superstar appeal of the NBA, but one that endures in popularity, with the whir of turnstiles at ballparks and outlandish TV revenues to prove it. 

It has a particular culture, a language, a mystique, and if I might go so far: a soul. When I called this time of year the sporting world's sweet spot, I was borrowing from baseball's large lexicon of original vocabulary, in this case that beautiful part of the bat just past where the Louisville Slugger logo rests, the part that gives a heavenly ride to the baseball as it crosses the plate and connects with a perfectly timed swing. Baseball has a song that everybody knows, a culinary history of cracker jacks and hot dogs and cups of beer, and it doesn't have a clock. Baseball unfurls itself at its own pace and if the point and click world we now call home won't allow you to sit back and watch it spread out on a fall evening in October, I don't know what more I can do to convince you why you should love it.

Now that we're down to four teams in this year's playoffs, the post season has really begun. The Giants play the Phillies in the National League Championship Series, with the Texas Rangers playing the New York Yankees in the AL. The Rangers just won their first playoff series in team history by besting the Tampa Bay Rays and find themselves the underdog against the boys in pinstripes, while the Giants, who made a late season run in the NL West to make it to the post season, find themselves with an equally daunting task against Philly's elite pitching staff. Two seven-game series in their respective leagues are about to be decided over the next week or so, leading to the World Series and all that is right with American sports.

If you've never given baseball the time of day as a viewer, I implore you to do so this October. If this country has the ability to embrace soccer the way it did during this year's World Cup, then the boredom argument just doesn't hold any water. Like the Beautiful Game, baseball is slow moving but captivating. It chugs along at its own pace and takes patience and attention to be enjoyed fully. Take a few hours and let a game spread out in front of you, listen to the poetry of the play-by-play and learn about the subtle nuances of the infield shift. Heck, maybe you'll even learn one of baseball's innumerable unwritten rules, like never making the first or third out trying for third base.

If at first you might groan when someone changes the channel over to the ballgame this October, and you're forced to tell them that you just can't watch baseball, know that for us folks who love it, there isn't any other athletic scratch that will get at our nine-inning-long itch.



When the Washington Redskins played the Eagles in Philadelphia on Sunday, the storyline was supposed to be all about Donovan McNabb returning to the city to play against the team that traded him away in the off season. McNabb was dealt to the Redskins because the Eagles were confident in his back up, Kevin Kolb, and because they obviously thought his skills were diminishing in the latter part of his career. While it's a long season and we won't know for a while how good McNabb still is (especially on a team that isn't exactly setting the league on fire), a lot of the headlines that would have been focused on his return were shared with the fact that Michael Vick, and not the aforementioned Kolb, is actually the starting QB for the Eagles now. Not only that, but he's been really, really good at his job the last three weeks.

Kolb was concussed in the opening game of the season, and Vick stepped into the role of starter. The two large ironies about this new role are that Philadelphia gave Vick his second chance in the NFL because of the urging of McNabb while he was still in Philly and that Vick himself was subsequently injured early in Sunday's game and replaced by Kolb. All the featured players in the Vick comeback saga were on the field Sunday, and it made for a truly interesting storyline by the end of the day. The Skins beat the Eagles and McNabb found some revenge, but the shuffling at the QB position for Philadelphia is just getting to be too much to follow.

To (try and) sum it up:

A year ago McNabb urges Philly to sign Vick as a third string QB, Philly then trades McNabb to allow Kevin Kolb, the second stringer, to become the starting QB in the off season. Next, Kolb gets hurt allowing Vick to be the starting QB, and then Vick gets hurt to give the job back to Kolb three games later--that last step in a game played between McNabb's old team and his new one. If you're a little lost, you're not the only one, Vick's return to the field has been anything but typical.

Up until week two this season, Vick hadn't started at QB since returning to the NFL after his prison sentence (you may remember something involving an illegal dog-fighting operation?) and the way he's played in the first three games has blown just about everybody away. He looks like himself again, only better. He's more comfortable in the pocket and knows how to use his game-changing quickness and running ability only when he has to. Up until his injury on Sunday, he was once again a starting quarterback for an NFL franchise and off to what can only be called an impressive start through the first three weeks of play.

Vick is a lightning rod, there's no two ways about it. Everybody's got an opinion on the former Hokie now that he's done his time in the pokey and is back playing like (if not better than) he used to when he was under center for the Atlanta Falcons. I've brought the topic of Vick up when surrounded by sports fans and non-sports fans alike, and it only lends more credence to my thought that the guy is the most fascinating topic of discussion in the sporting world since Mike Tyson.

Like Tyson, who served a jail sentence for raping a beauty queen, Vick's crime is heinous and without justification. He bank rolled a dog-fighting ring and did the time for his truly gut-wrenching crime. The reason Vick is so debated and hated and stuck up for all at the same time is due to a lot of intersecting factors, which I'd like to explore even though the story has lost some luster now that Vick's ribs appear to be in pieces after a literally bone-crunching hit early in Sunday's game.

I get in trouble with a lot of my pals for sticking up for Vick, something I don't do with unequivocal pride, but with the belief that second chances are as American as apple pie. I wrote in a previous post about the demise of Roger Clemens' public image, and about how the Rocket was going through a familiar cycle that many celebrities have taken a trip around. He was built up to hero status, only to be torn down as a cheater and a liar. The third step in this celebrity scandal process for a lot of transgressors is to be built back up again by the public that has both loved and scorned them. It's that last step that I want nothing to do with when it comes to Clemens, but something I am willing to do for Michael Vick.

Vick's crimes are absolutely beyond the pale. Torturing animals for personal entertainment is one of the worst things I can possibly imagine a person can do, and it's why so many people will never, ever give Vick the time of day again. In a lot of people's eyes, the man is evil incarnate and shouldn't be on the street today, let alone on a football field throwing touchdown passes in front of sold out crowds and millions of viewers at home. It sickens a lot of people that the guy is making around $4 million this year when he did what he did (though with all of the folks that he owes money, and the ins and outs of contract negotiation, he ain't gonna see nearly that much, but that's beside the point).

I get all that. I do. But I just think that Vick deserves that second chance that I won't give Roger Clemens. For one, he did his time. He went to a federal penitentiary for almost two years, where not only the glory of the football field was taken from him, but his freedom. I've never seen the inside of a jail cell, but I can imagine that going from NFL superstar to federal inmate for a year or so has an affect on the way you look at the world. I think that Vick came out of prison apologetic, repentant, and focused.

I think he looks at life through a lens that few of us who criticize him can understand, and I don't think that being convicted and then punished for his crimes means that he doesn't get to do his job anymore now that his freedom has been restored. I have absolutely no beef with the guy being allowed to play quarterback in the NFL again, because while that profession is indeed a privilege and not a right, he happens to play the sport that is one of the world's only true meritocracies. If you're good, you play. If you're the best at your position on the team, you start. If you're head and shoulders above the rest of the guys that play your position, you're a superstar. It's that simple.

It's the reason that Vick would never have been black-listed by the NFL, and I think it will end up helping him become a much better person at the end of the day. The guy is a creep, okay, I get that, but I certainly don't wish a wasted life upon anyone, considering how lucky everybody on this planet is to be able to live one out. Moments are precious, and I bet if you ask Vick if he now knows that, he wouldn't be able to get the "yes sir" out of his mouth fast enough.

Let's be honest, no matter how much or little jail time he did, it wasn't going to erase the fact that he murdered animals and funded a dog-fighting ring. Nothing is ever going to get that stain off of Vick and there is absolutely no way around that. So what are we to do, as a society? We've jailed him, scorned him in the public eye and belittled him in every way. Guess what? He's still here. He's still a person and one that happens to be blessed with freakish athletic talents that have never been seen at the position he plays on the field.

The real reason I like Vick as a redemption story so much is that he seems to be genuinely appreciative of his second chance at life and more importantly, because he has learned so much from his mistakes (something this writer struggles with doing on a daily basis). It's hard to recognize your faults and have the will to make changes that will correct them. If you watched the interview Vick sat down for on Fox NFL Sunday or this one, where he talks to his former coach Jim Mora, you cannot deny his authenticity or his commitment to change. His outlook has completely shifted and he is using his second act in the NFL to redirect the public gaze away from his talents as a quarterback and towards positive avenues off the field.

With the support of the Humane Society, Vick now uses his celebrity status and his tenure as dog-fighting ringmaster and federal inmate to try and show kids what not to do and the public in general why dog-fighting must be eradicated. Sure, the second part seems like common sense, but it is obviously a fight that must be had, because Michael Vick isn't the only guy in the country that has pit animal against animal for their own entertainment. The problem continues in many parts of the country, especially the southern United States, and he is now doing everything he can to help animal rights groups make it a thing of the past.

So if you want to hate Vick, go ahead and hate him, I'm just not coming along for the ride. I for one admire a man that can sink so low and pull himself back up a changed person and a positive influence. I've always enjoyed watching him on the football field, but now I can also enjoy his story as a tale of a man redeemed by his own failures. I'm not going to forgive him for what he did, but I'm not going to make him suffer for trying to make it right either.