As someone with an opinion on just about everything that has to do with the world of sports, I've learned to think before I speak. When a big story breaks, it is often unwise to go spouting off about something before all of the facts come out. Now, there are a lot of people that make a lot of money doing just that in print, television, and on the radio, but because I don't get paid to write about sports and because I don't have a deadline, I'm allowed to take a deep breath, digest all of the information and opinions that I've heard, and then levy my judgement at my leisure. When it comes to the scandal at Penn State though, the first reaction I had, the only human reaction anyone should have had, of pure disgust and unmitigated admonishment of everyone involved, has not changed one iota in the time that the story broke and now, when I finally set my fingers to the keys.

We have learned much and heard more from everyone in the world of sports journalism and the larger mainstream media outlets about this story, but it hasn't changed anything about the way I feel and what I think about what happened at Penn State. As a human being, it is easy to feel a knot in the stomach and a vivid anger in the heart when you hear that grown men either took part in the act of child rape and molestation or the ensuing cover up of the crime, so my opinion on the matter in that regard is shared and easily formed. What has seriously angered me in the aftermath of all of this sad, lurid business is that there remain pockets of the population that continue to support Penn State head coach Joe Paterno in any way, shape, or form. There is absolutely no reason for anyone to lend a friendly word or a piteous glance in Paterno's direction, no matter how much he has done for the university, its football program, or the community in State College, PA.

Paterno recently became the winningest coach in college football history and is perhaps its greatest example of elder statesmanship in an era where scandals of all shapes and forms continually flash across the headlines. This year alone has seen two of college football's biggest programs in Ohio State and Miami both have their reputations tarnished through the impropriety of players, coaches, boosters, and university officials, but as Sports Illustrated points out in their cover story on the Penn State scandal, the violations by those schools and similar situations at schools like North Carolina look effectively quaint in the shadow of what has happened at Linebacker U. Penn State coaches and officials are not guilty of covering up a player receiving cash for a job he didn't really work, trading his equipment and memorabilia for tattoos, or partying in strip clubs and yachts on a booster's dime. They are guilty of covering up what is perhaps the most heinous crime to ever be associated with a college football program, and need to be treated as such.

The details of the Penn State story get darker and darker the deeper you dig, as the aforementioned SI piece illustrated, but the central crime and the men related to its cover up are plainly guilty and their lives and legacies will never be the same. There is of course, former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who perpetrated the crimes of child molestation and rape in the Penn State showers, among other places, but his serial child molestation is not the only gut-wrenching crime that is evident here. Two more Penn State officials are already guilty of perjury for covering up Sandusky's actions, and head coach Joe Paterno did as little as humanly possible to make sure that Sandusky was punished and prosecuted for his crimes, though he did avoid a perjury charge of his own in his just-truthful-enough statement to the grand jury regarding the case.

So what we have at the end of the day is one sick, twisted individual carrying out crimes against young men he (gallingly) met through his charity for at-risk youth and several other grown men with sterling reputations risking their own morality and freedom to make sure that no one found out about it. Sandusky is a bone-chilling figure (not to mention an imposing one at over 6 feet tall and 200 lbs. plus), to be certain. Not only did he carry out these crimes, but if you listen to him being interviewed by Bob Costas (seriously, click that link if you haven't seen the interview and haven't recently eaten) on national television and responding to blunt, terse questions like "Are you sexually attracted to young boys?" by first having to repeat the question to give himself time to think, then answering with a kind of "aw shucks, I was just horsing around" duplicity, every ounce of your humanity urges you to hop a plane to Pennsylvania to give this guy exactly what he deserves.  And this terrible, awful individual was protected from upon high at Penn State by Paterno, the Pope of college football (insert Catholic priest joke here), which sullies the legacy of perhaps the sport's all-time greatest and most venerated leader. 

As Dan Patrick recently pointed out on his well-listened-to radio program, if this does not constitute lack of institutional control, a charge that gets mentioned whenever the NCAA is investigating a large scandal at any university, then what exactly does? Sure there isn't any rampant disregard for rules regarding paying players or special favors for athletes, but what we're dealing with at Penn State is far more widespread and insidious. Sandusky has had the cloud of child molestation charges hanging over him for ten years and no one thought to do anything about it or keep him away from young boys or the university's facilities. This is not only the worst scandal that has ever been associated with any college or university, but a crime and cover-up that should enter the annals of American wrong-doing in any form.

The whole business in unforgivable, but again what makes me the angriest is that people still don't seem to understand that in certain circles. If you happened to catch this week's episode of "This American Life" on NPR, which details life in and around Penn State both in the wake of the scandal and in prior years, when the school was voted the top party school in the country by the Princeton Review, I applaud you if you still have a radio. I was certainly tempted to rip mine out of the socket and toss it out the window as I listened to person after person at Penn State, whether they were faculty, students, or employees of the university, continually tell the audience that they just don't understand what it's like at Penn State. The blue and white Kool-Aid these folks are drinking is so potent that apparently it's our fault. We just can't comprehend how powerful and respected a figure Joe Paterno is, and we have to look at this whole situation in the entirety of its context. 

Trouble is, Nittany Lions fans, there is no context. This is the rape of young boys within the walls of a major university and men and women in places of power doing nothing about it.

Rape, they say, is the ultimate crime of power, where the perpetrator and victim are at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to control. If that is true, and I agree it is, then what we have is the longest and most painful case of rape I can ever recall reading or hearing about. Not only were the victims molested and raped initially, but they were endlessly violated by people in places of power that used their influence and positions to cover-up and conceal the crimes committed. What happened at Penn State is rape in its literal form and rape in the figurative sense, as the victims were held down and silenced by those who knew about what happened and did nothing. Joe Paterno et al failed to bring justice to the young men whose lives were irrevocably damaged by what happened, plain and simple.

If you're tired of reading that word, "rape", I am in no way tired of typing it. It needs to be shouted from the mountaintops that surround Happy Valley whenever anyone tries to explain away or defend what happened there. The word needs to be spray painted on Joe Paterno's front door and tattooed on Jerry Sandusky's forehead. It needs to follow the men and women involved with this scandal wherever they go for the rest of their lives. As Christy Leigh Stewart says, "You keep the title of 'president' even if you served only one term. The same goes for rapists." There is no rehabilitation or redemption that can be earned for anyone with even the slightest bit to do with this ugly, gruesome story and you should do yourself a favor and let anyone who feels otherwise hear why it must be so. 

Children were molested and raped and people did nothing about it. That is all that will come to mind for this writer whenever Penn State plays a football game, makes the headline of a newspaper, or is mentioned in any context. I'm certainly not in the position that so many at Penn State were, the position of being able to do something about what happened, but I do have the relatively meaningless but personally important purview of never keeping my mouth shut on this matter, whenever it is brought up. There are times in life when you can't do much, but still must do everything you can, and for me that is shouting down anyone that supports Penn State in regards to this matter for the rest of my natural life. This post is the beginning, but not the end of my effort to let no one forget what happened to these young men. Please join me in doing the same, gentle readers.



I know the tardiness of this post may make it look like I'm a bit late to the party, but I think it's finally time for me to talk 2011 World Series Game 6. While I knew I had to write about Game 6 of this year's World Series between the Cardinals and Rangers, the historical implications of the game made me take a deep breath and process it fully before I started spouting off about how it was one of the best games I have ever seen played. Well, now a week has passed and I can confidently say that it was one of the best games I have ever seen played. I'm not only talking about baseball here either, Game 6 was one of the most enthralling and entertaining games I have ever watched in any sport.

Because it has been a week since the game was played I'd like to shift the focus for the most part away from a recap of the action (which was sublimely abundant) and more towards what the experience of a great game is all about for a fan. In any sport, during any season, there are always great games. There are back and forth contests with shifts in momentum and amazing moments throughout that constitute a truly great game, but rarely do they come in the playoffs, let alone a championship series or game, and seemingly never in an elimination game where the sport's crown is up for grabs. Game 6 between the Rangers and Cardinals had all of this, and added to its implications was a litany of oh-my-god moments that left me on the edge of my seat and gasping for breath when the game was over.

If the surging Cardinals seemed like a team of destiny during the stretch run of baseball's regular season, where they had to go on an unbelievable tear to even make the post-season, and during their subsequent run through the National League playoffs, where they rode their heroic superstar Albert Pujols into the World Series, their magic seemed to be fading in Game 6, especially in the seventh inning, when the Rangers took what looked like a Series' clinching 7-4 lead on back to back home runs by Nelson Cruz and Adrian Beltre. A 7-4 lead going into the bottom of the seventh is just about where you want to be when you're up 3-2 in the series and only need 9 more outs to be a World Series champion, but the Rangers were destined to come up short and what happened over the next four innings was as breathtaking a turn of events that has ever occurred in sports.

What happened after the Cardinals' went down three runs was simply stunning. From there the game went to 7-5, 7-7, 9-7, 9-9, and finally, with a walk-off home run from St. Louis' David Freese, a final score of 10-9 in eleven innings. That's 11 runs in the last 4 innings combined from both teams, which included what looked like a series clinching home run by the Rangers' Josh Hamilton, misplayed balls, errors, and so many pitching substitutions that the Cardinals' Tony La Russa was using his pitching staff as pinch hitters. In case you aren't too familiar with baseball, the pitcher hits 9th in every line-up because they aren't paid to swing the bat, they're paid to throw the ball. 

As a fan, when you're watching a game like this, you're simply trying to enjoy the action, but what inevitably happens is that your brain starts to add weight to the outcome because of the circumstances and consequences of the gameplay. Sure, this would have been an amazing regular season affair considering the amount of runs scored and frenetic play in the last 4 innings and because the game went into extras, but when the magnitude and timing of the game are also considered, you begin to see  what sets it apart and makes it one of the most memorable contests ever witnessed. Let's just go down the list of reasons this game was so incredible. 

We'll start with the where the Series itself was at when Game 6 started:

  • The Rangers were playing in their second consecutive World Series and have never won a championship in franchise history, having lost to the San Francisco Giants in last year's fall classic.
  • Texas held a 3-2 series advantage after a mystifying end to Game 5, in which a miscommunication between the Cardinals' dugout and bullpen resulted in the wrong pitcher being called into the game.
  • The Series featured two of major league baseball's premiere players--Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton--one on each side, and one of its most decorated and venerated managers in the Cardinals' Tony La Russa.
  • A rain cancellation postponed the game one day to allow the Cardinals' ace pitcher Chris Carpenter enough time to rest and take the mound instead of watching it from the bench. A clear advantage for the Red Birds.

And as for the game itself:

  • It featured 5 errors, a staggering number considering these were supposedly the best teams that their respective leagues had to offer, any one of which could have ended up contributing to a win or loss for either team.
  • The Rangers were twice not only one out away, but one strike away from ending the game, but failed to do so both times. Additionally, their clubhouse was twice covered in plastic in preparation for their championship celebration, before being restored to its normal, stain-susceptible condition by Busch Stadium employees.
  • Josh Hamilton, a recovering drug and alcohol addict who was a hand-full of pills and a couple of shots away from being a tale of what could have been, hit a home run that put the Rangers up two runs that he alleges God Almighty told him he was going to hit before the at-bat.
  • The Cardinals overcame not only Hamilton's seemingly game-ending two run blast, but also back-to-back home runs by Beltre and Cruz in the seventh. 
  • Veteran Lance Berkman of the Cardinals, "The Big Puma" (née "Fat Elvis") was seemingly left for dead after a terrible season in New York last year, but after signing with St. Louis in the off season both scored and drove in runs to keep his team in the game.
  • The Cardinals' David Freese, a native of the city where he now plays major league baseball, ended the game with a walk-off home run, baseball's most exciting play, after botching an easy pop-up to third base earlier that could have cost his team the game and the Series.

Just look at all of that drama! That's the sort of thing that is running through your head as you're watching this game. There's so much on the line, so many twists and turns in the action, and so much back story and emotional investment for both the fans and players, that it all adds up to a truly monumental game. Not only that, but this was a baseball game after all, the sport with so much soul, history, memorable moments and apocryphal legends that it could fill a set of encyclopedias. This game is so great because it is set against baseball's fabled backdrop, where not only are there myriad moments of glory and agony, but enough great World Series Game 6 memories that this contest had one of the highest historical bars to leap over and seemed to clear it with room to spare.

As NPR sports correspondent and Slate contributor Stefan Fatsis pointed out in Slate's Hang Up and Listen sports roundtable following the Series (a podcast any intelligent sports fan should have a subscription to), this year's Game 6 was played in the shadow of Carlton Fisk's arm-waving walk-off home run in 1975, Reggie Jackson's three home run game in 1977, Bill Buckner's infamous gaffe on Mookie Wilson's ground ball in 1986 (a moment that provided the title and plot device for the one and only movie my favorite author Don DeLillo has written), Kirby Puckett's game-seven-forcing walk-off dinger in 1991, and Joe Carter's walk-off home run two years later off of Mitch "Wild Thing" Williams in Toronto in 1993. As Fatsis points out by referencing these amazing moments, the World Series has seen its share of Game 6 drama, and this year's has set itself within that pantheon, if not holding the position of its quintessential example. For me, it has to rest at the top of the Game 6 list, simply because I'm not old enough to remember any of those moments save the Joe Carter walk-off, which I vaguely recall gaping at as a wide-eyed eleven year old boy. 

A game like the one played out in St. Louis last Thursday night is the kind of game that makes you remember why you love sports so much if you're a fan. It lets you forget about inflated salaries, performance enhancing drugs, labor disputes and contract negotiations and just revel in the beauty of a game-winning home run sailing through the dry air of autumn, clearing the fence to send one team into a champagne-soaked ecstasy and the other into the nadir of emotional experience as professional athletes. The Cardinals victory in Game 6 of course did not win them the World Series, but only tied it 3-3 and forced a game 7 the following evening, but I think if you asked anybody with an iota of knowledge about sports who would win that Game 7, they would have all said St. Louis. The emotional baggage a loss like that creates for the loser, in this case Texas, versus the blue-whale-sized wave of momentum it gave the winner, St. Louis, was simply too much to disregard.

And of course, last Friday night, that's exactly what happened. The Cardinals won easily 6-2 and took home the World Series crown, but if there were ever an anticlimactic Game 7, this year's was it. There was just no competing with Game 6 and its positively breathtaking moments and historical repercussions.  Sure we didn't have the Yankees or the Red Sox in this year's Series, but if the 2011 showdown between the Cardinals and Rangers is any indication, we don't need any east coast heavyweights to give us something to watch. Instead, all we need is the beautiful game of baseball, where anything can and does happen, over and over. I'm just glad I get to sit back and watch it all happen. Hope you are too.



If you happen to read this blog on a regular basis (thanks to both of you!) you might be a little surprised that with all of this great baseball happening I haven't said word one about what's going on in this year's MLB playoffs. Well the plain truth is that like a lot of fans and guys that actually play the game, your boy is very, very superstitious. Especially when it comes to my favorite team, the Detroit Tigers. If I were a proper journalist, I suppose I would have to eventually learn to wean myself off of the love I have for my favorite teams, but as is I can't help but be a fan first, writer second, and as a result I've had to keep quiet on the baseball playoffs while the Tigers were still fighting with the Yankees and Rangers, trying to reach their first World Series since a loss in 2006 to the St. Louis Cardinals.

It basically comes down to what ol' Crash Davis told Nuke LaLoosh in 'Bull Durham': never fuck with a winning streak. The Tigers were on one and in the myopic mind state of a dedicated Tigers fan, I had the feeling that if I started to gloat, comment, or complain about anything that had to do with the AL playoffs, I would somehow initiate some kind of new, alternate universe where my comments would eventually screw the Tigers over. Turns out, they went ahead and did that to themselves, so I am now free to say anything I care to about the MLB playoffs and give the world my two cents on how I think things will shake out in the 2011 World Series, which is set to begin less than an hour from now.

I could start with all of the usually effusive stuff that comes to my mind every year around playoff and World Series time, but if you want to go back and read about why I think that baseball is so pure and romantic and makes me go all school-girl silly, you can do that at another date. Instead, lets just get right to what led us to this year's World Series match-up and how I think it will affect how the Series plays out. The first thing I noticed watching the AL side of the things? The Texas Rangers line-up is really, really good. Top to bottom, there are threats for big hits or the long ball, and there aren't many teams in the league outside of New York City that can make that claim. It's why the Rangers just did the boys from Motown dirty and why they ended up in the World Series, because although their starting pitching has been solid, it has not been incredible, which is usually the case for a team that makes a deep playoff run. Oh yeah, and one Nelson Cruz is absolutely on fire. Not bad for a guy in the bottom third of your line-up.

The Rangers' starting pitching staff has been just good enough, performing at a level just high enough to let their big bats and their bullpen do all of the talking. Like I said before, I'm a huge Detroit Tigers fan and that has screwed with my bias to some extent, but as I watched, I definitely noticed that the Rangers are flat out better this year. I don't think that there pitching is better than Detroit's, but the Tigers found out that even though superior starting pitching always seems to win championships, a team that has a line-up that is as good as the Rangers, adequate starters and a deadly bullpen can still win the day. Sometimes, being able to swing a bat really well can overcome weaknesses in starting pitching, and allow your bullpen to do the lion's share of the work while you crush the ball over the fence and leave your opponent in the dust.

As for the St. Louis Cardinals, I don't think even the most keen-eyed of baseball observers saw them ending up in the World Series. They were left in the middle of the NL Central for much of the season, but got hot at the right time, with a blistering performance down the stretch run of the regular season that carried them to a Wild Card birth on straight through the NL playoffs. The soon to be free agent Albert Pujols, easily the game's best pure hitter, was particularly brilliant, shutting up Nyjer Morgan and his loud-mouthed Twitter account to knock out the Brew Crew and advance to the Series. Unlike the Rangers, the Cardinals do have stellar starting pitching, anchored by their ace Chris Carpenter. The Series will be an interesting contrast in styles, as the Cardinals hope to ride their starters and rely on manager Tony La Russa's manic manipulation of the bullpen to carry them through most games. They also have bats to help with their cause, led by the aforementioned Pujols and augmented by guys like Matt Holliday, who can certainly give the Rangers pitching staff fits on a given night.

For those of you who don't watch baseball on the regular, I think that the most intriguing part of the Series for the casual fan will be the philosophies of the teams' managers, La Russa and the Rangers' Ron Washington. La Russa is the epitome of the cerebral clubhouse guru, willing to do whatever it takes whenever he sees fit to give his team (particularly his pitching staff) the best chance to win. Washington is a shoot-from-the-hip wild west gunslinger in comparison, with the kind of enthusiasm in the dugout and go-for-broke base path strategy that sees the Rangers running whenever a guy gets on base and an improvisational style that can be hard to counteract at times. La Russa may have the rings, laurels, and published accounts of unprecedented shrewdness to accentuate his managerial prowess, but Washington brings an insouciance and will to take risks that was only emboldened by the Rangers' experience in their World Series loss to the San Francisco Giants last year.

As a guy who puts out opinions on the world of sports, I of course have to make my prediction for the Series. As such, I'm taking the Rangers in 5. I won't lie, with the Tigers in the ALCS I definitely watched more of their series with the Rangers than I did the Cardinals/Brewers showdown, so that might have led to a bias towards Texas, but I just think they are the best team on the field right now. That line-up is just absolutely too much to handle for any starting pitching staff, the Cardinals' included. I know La Russa is the mad genius and St. Louis has perhaps the best player of his generation in Albert Pujols, but I like Texas to continue their winning ways and make quick work of the Cardinals. If my Tigers can't be there to avenge their 2006 World Series loss, I'd like to hope that their AL brethren that just sent them back to the Motor City will take care of business. Here's to the World Series, have fun watching and if you never have, go ahead and pop your cherry on what should be an exciting bit of action as fall once again settles in and baseball takes center stage.



Football, especially in its professional incarnation, has always had somewhat of a bad reputation among people that are not avid sports fans. To an outside observer, the cerebral, exacting, and technical aspects of the game are rendered invisible by the violence, bravado, and muscle mass that also permeate the gridiron. For true sports fans, this balance is appreciated fully and it is what makes the game of football such a joy to watch: its graceful athleticism and carefully constructed game plans blend perfectly with the crushing blows and bone-jarring impacts that NFL and college players (not to mention players at any age group, from Pop Warner to high school) subject themselves too. It is this refined sort of violence that makes football so alluring at the end of the day, but as a regular viewer of the action that takes place on both Saturdays and Sundays in the fall, I cannot help but feel a knot beginning to form in my stomach that is due to the sheer destruction the game can bring to those who play it.

I’m not just talking about the controversy over concussions, short lifespans, or missing memories that many current and former players have come face to face with as the years go on, but I will say that those realities are what initiated this post in the first place. I’ve become an avid reader (as should every football fan) of a season-long back and forth between writers for the famous/infamous Deadspin (they’re the guys that gave us the pictures of Lil Brett) and the folks at Slate Magazine, who explored the football player’s existential dilemma with aplomb two weeks back. I don’t want to just rehash what those enlightened fellas had to say, because the facts regarding head injuries, short lives and rolling marbles in the football player’s brain are documented and chilling, but are not what has changed the way I view the game I love over the last couple of seasons.

I have read the statistics and processed the consequences, but there is something much more visceral acting on my spectating conscience than cold hard facts and medical records. It comes from simply watching the game of football and realizing that in my approximately 20 years as a cognizant football fan (I would say my initial years watching the game were spent more worshiping players and cheering the action as opposed to actually understanding the actual intricacies of game play) the game has changed for the better in terms of entertainment value, but that has come with some heavy baggage that is beginning to create pains in my intellectual lower lumbar. Although Jim McMahon’s account of not being able to remember what the hell he was just doing is one of those documented cases of abuse that garners my support for his lawsuit against the league, the players know what they’re getting into, and stories like McMahon’s have simply let the general public know what they’re getting into as well.

But like I said, all of the already established risks aside, as legitimate advancements in everything from training regimens, supplements and weight lifting programs have occurred alongside less publicly accepted strides in making football players faster and stronger like steroid use and detection prevention, human growth hormone, and starting a young athlete’s road toward athletic fame and fortune at increasingly young ages, the game of football as a viewing experience has become an undeniably violent contest that entertains its masses at the price of its competitors. The obvious and tired analogy to the human spectating evolution lies in comparisons to the Roman Colosseum and gladiators dying en masse at the whim of the emperor and to the delight of the crowd, and the more I watch collegiate and professional football, the more of a connection I feel to those ancient spectators. Sure, nobody is being eaten alive by a tiger or run through with a longsword, but if you’ve watched enough football, you’ve seen enough horrifying injuries and near death/life-altering experiences to make you question whether or not in the year 2011, this sort of violence for the sake of entertainment is still an acceptable way to pass your idle time on the weekends.

A week and a half back the NFL and NCAA saw two gruesome injuries on their respective fields of play, which you can check out here and here if you happen to have the stomach for it. I usually can’t watch injuries like the ones Eric Foster of the Indianapolis Colts and LaMichael James of the Oregon Ducks sustained more than once, and that holds true with these two videos. There is just something about watching a person’s body parts move at angles that would challenge a geometry student employing a protractor that gives me butterflies in my stomach. I’m not the only one either, as Foster’s injury was so gut-wrenching that it reportedly had teammates and opposing players alike crying on the field. These two injuries are only the latest in a long litany of football casualties––from Joe Theisman’s broken leg (perhaps the single most devastating injury you will ever see) to Willis McGahee’s shredded knee ligaments––that make you realize just how brutal the sport can be. And while I know that other sports have their share of similarly hard-to-watch moments, football stands alone as a sport where something like this can happen on any play.

It stems from the very nature of the game, which I guess is my point at the end of the day. I love football, but I do not like to see my fellow man dismembered in order for my weekend TV watching to be entertaining. Along with the type of injuries I just mentioned, the sheer size and speed of players has made football the most violent form of entertainment in America outside of a horror film. And when you hear a helmet crack against another one or see someone not moving after leading with their head on a kickoff tackle, there really is no other form of guilt quite like it. You know at that moment you’re getting your sporting jollies from the pain of other people and perhaps at the cost of the lives of other people, and it can become unsettling. Like I said, this guilt has become particularly prickly for me over the last two seasons, and I feel myself at a crossroads in my life as both a fan and a dood with a decent head on his shoulders.

My brain can’t help but start asking certain questions. Should I continue to watch a game that I know does nothing but damage to those that play it? Should I enjoy rooting for my favorite team when the guys that suit up for them have the chance to be killed as I watch? Can I be a true fan when in my heart I’m not really comfortable with concussions, memory loss, short life spans, and post-career suicides?

The plain truth is that I just don’t know. For now I’m enduring some serious cognitive dissonance side effects and I guess I’ll just have to see if the drug of American football keeps working enough to make me forget about the other(s) pain it causes.



When I relaunched Bo Jackson’s Hip last year I did so with somewhat of a mission statement. I refocused my intent on illustrating why sports are important to me and how the inner workings of athletes and the games they play provide a lot of analogous material to what it means to be human and to play the game of life. I also explained why I call my missives about the world of sports Bo Jackson’s Hip. If you don’t want to go back and read all about it, here’s a quick summation:

Bo Jackson is perhaps the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen and definitely the favorite athlete of my youth. He played two professional sports exceptionally well and may have gone on to be one of the all-time greats in both football and baseball had it not been for avascular necrosis, a condition that made his hip fly out of socket when he was tackled playing for the Los Angeles Raiders. After that day his football career was over and his baseball career was never the same (even though he did hit a dinger in his first post-recovery at-bat, because like I said, he’s the greatest athlete I’ve ever seen). Did I also mention that he allegedly forced his own hip back into socket on the field after he felt it pop? The Raiders' athletic trainer said that no one is that strong. This writer believes that Bo was.

Nevertheless, it changed that fast for Vincent Edward Jackson. One play he was on top of the world, the next, his career as an athlete was all but over. It taught me something about life as a bright eyed sports fan to see my hero’s future dim so quickly, and I like to think I have taken that life lesson with me as I approach thirty years on planet earth. Bo’s injury speaks to me on many levels. It hits on a lot of cliché but ultimately true sentiments you always hear about existence. Life is short. Life is not fair. Tomorrow everything could change. Success is not guaranteed. Take nothing for granted.

With the news that Peyton Manning’s season and career may now be in jeopardy due to a neck injury coming on the heels of Sidney Crosby’s press conference about his lingering concussion-related symptoms, Bo’s story and his connection to my writing have truly come into focus over the last week or so. While I hope it is not true, it’s possible that two of America’s big four sports might lose their most recognizable athletes. Crosby’s prognosis probably isn’t that dire, and it’s too early to tell if Manning really is watching his career slip away from him, but their two predicaments certainly brought to mind Bo Jackson and the fragility of life on planet earth for me all over again.

Manning is the face of the NFL. He is a borderline genius at the position he plays, which I’ve talked about before as being the most important and difficult position in all of sports: NFL quarterback. Likewise Sidney Crosby, “Sid the Kid”, is the 24 year old phenom who has become the face of the National Hockey League. With MVP, Stanley Cup Champion, and Olympic Gold Medalist already on his short but impressive resumé, the sky is the limit for the already dominant hockey player.

But for both players, as Biggie would say, “Things Done Changed.” Manning was on the path towards owning every important record that an NFL quarterback can hold and perhaps more Lombardi trophies to add to the Super Bowl victory he earned against the Bears in 2006. Crosby has already climbed many of the highest peaks in hockey and his ascent is just beginning up the staggeringly tall mountain that Wayne Gretzky currently sits atop as the greatest hockey player that ever lived. Now, both of their careers hang in the balance.

Manning sustained his neck injury in 2006 (if you believe what his former coach Tony Dungy says) and it eventually led to two surgeries to try and repair the damage. Over the last week news broke that a third surgery that involves the removal of a damaged disc in his neck is necessary and the guy who urged others to “Cut that meat!” will be getting cut for the second time in the span of five months. It doesn’t look good. Manning need only look to Sterling Sharpe, a dynamic wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers that had his career end early because of a similar infirmity to see that not only his season, but his remaining days as an NFL player are in jeopardy. The paradigm for Manning has shifted and he is now staring into the abyss of a career cut short. Not only a career, but what is already among the greatest in NFL history and one that might be the greatest if he is allowed to keep going.

For Crosby, he is a prime example of the growing attention and concern related to concussions, which has plagued the NFL in recent years and is now reaching into the NHL as well. If you read about what Crosby has been going through, things don’t look good for him either. He sustained two head injuries in consecutive games last season, ending his pursuit of another Stanley Cup abruptly and putting him in a position of extreme uncertainty regarding this season as well. He has complained of a foggy feeling in his head while doing everything from skating to watching television. Even more chilling, the Kid says he’s also had moments of not being able to sense where his limbs are. This kind of brain malfunction is scary for anyone, but especially an athlete that plays a sport like hockey that is so predicated on contact and physicality.

Like Manning’s corollary Sharpe, Crosby also has an athlete he can learn from in Justin Morneau, a baseball player for the Minnesota Twins that suffered a concussion that continues to plague him and prevent him from reaching his full potential. Morneau and Crosby are both young, approaching their prime, and now sidelined by hits to the head that have resulted in puzzling recoveries that point to the still unknown damage that concussions can do to a person’s brain and overall health.

My hope is that Manning and Crosby, along with Morneau, are not victims of a catastrophic injury that turns their world upside down. I hope that they are not on their way to becoming the next Bo Jackson. As a fan, I want to continue to watch their greatness, and as a human being I hope that tragedy hasn’t befallen them. I hope they return to the games that they love and are better than ever. I hope that the world isn’t as cruel to them as it can be and that sports writers and fans can one day construct their comeback stories and tell future generations that they faced down the most traumatic experience of their lives and came out stronger on the other side.

But...if things end up as badly as they possible can, this period will be remembered as momentous and tragic in the world of sports. The tail end of 2011 could very well be the tipping point in the careers of two of the most recognizable athletes in American sports. While both Manning and Crosby sustained their injuries previously, the news that Manning is out indefinitely and Crosby’s less than reassuring press conference have come in quick succession and might be the first words in the sentences that describe each of their retirements. While it seems unlikely that two such prominent athletes would have their careers cut short, I think it’s important to remember what kind of injuries they are dealing with.

Injuries to the neck and brain are nothing to mess around with. This isn’t a damaged knee or wrist or a sports hernia in either case, these are injuries that have the potential to be life-damaging or even life-threatening. If Crosby and Manning’s doctors tell them that a return to their respective sports has the potential to affect their quality of life, how do you think they will react? In Manning’s case, he already has a distinguished career, but more importantly a wife and children. I’m guessing he won’t let his competitive drive (even though it might be the most competitive drive in sports) interfere with a chance to watch his children grow up. And in Crosby’s case, at such a young age, how can he possibly return to the ice if the doctor’s tell him it could result in something permanent, like brain damage? Would you live the rest of your life with a few marbles rolling around if you were only 24 years old?

It’s a shame that the situations for both Crosby and Manning have come to this, and as a fan it is tough to think about hockey and football losing their respective superstars. Bo Jackson’s hip injury is a lesson to every fan in how quickly things can change, but it’s a lesson I don’t want to vicariously learn again, or see two such prominent  and gifted athletes learn first hand.

Get well soon fellas, we’re all rooting for you.



The country is currently in the position of watching two unfortunate public squabbles, one in the political arena, and the other in the sporting world. While the fight over raising the ceiling on the debt limit might have more of a real impact on our day to day lives, the childish obstreperousness of Democrats and Republicans is eerily similar to the fight between NFL players and owners, which has been going on for an even longer period of time than the war over how much money the United States can continue to spend. Political debates like the one we’re seeing right now are hard to stomach because the actual opinion of the American public seems to be disregarded completely, while the NFL labor dispute inspires the same kind of disgust for this writer, and I'm assuming most fans, as our interests and opinions are similarly dismissed.

While the fight over the debt ceiling continues to rage, the lifting of the NFL lockout is all but a done deal and football will soon be back in working order. As such, I feel the need to vent about why this whole process has rubbed me the wrong way and why football fans throughout the country should be revolted by the way both NFL owners and players have treated spectators. Despite how much both sides continue to behave as if we actually give a damn about their court cases and litigation and petty arguments, all we really want is for some football to be played after the usually compelling NFL off-season has been ruined by a fight over a breathtaking $9 billion in revenue.

I've talked a few times about how I still think baseball is America's pastime, but that football is now America's game. Baseball might always be the sport with the most soul and the most purity, but football is now the game of choice for most every American sports fan. If we were talking music, and not athletic competition, it would be safe to say that the blues has finally lost out to rock and roll.

It's why though baseball has a near monopoly on the world of sports right now (aside from some soccer played by women--a boring sport made even more boring; perhaps?), the NFL labor battle still dominates the headlines on a daily basis. The NFL lockout has swallowed up its off-season story lines and left the American sports fan in a strange place when it comes to things to talk about and ponder. If you think baseball is a tiresome thing to watch and discuss, try replacing your usual NFL off-season talk at the water cooler or the corner bar with headlines about court cases, mediation, and the petty public squabbling that is the NFL labor dispute.

It’s not necessarily the subject matter, but the participants involved that get my goat at the end of the day. That’s because I know about labor issues and I'm a big union supporter; always have been. I was born in Toledo, Ohio, which is a stone's throw away from Detroit and like the Motor City, its workforce is largely dependent on the automotive industry. That said, I have friends, relatives, friends of relatives, and relatives of relatives up the wazoo that are union guys. They make the parts for and the actual cars that a lot of people in America and other parts of the world drive around in, and I know how important those jobs are to the people and families they support, and how much a strong labor union means to their pocketbooks and livelihoods. You could say I grew up on lofty ideals [sic] like a decent wage, the 40 hour workweek (supplemented by overtime of course), and ample vacation time to spend enjoying the money you work so hard for.

This belief in the importance of unions was galvanized in my teen years by the art and information I surrounded myself with. Through a teenage obsession with Rage Against the Machine, I learned about organizations like UNITE! and was pointed towards books like the Autobiography of Mother Jones and Out of This Furnace, and I would eventually encounter similar texts in college and find more bands, like Fugazi, who carried a similarly burning torch. I learned about how much a good job and the right to organize labor means from this music and literature, and felt the sympathy in my heart for unions and belief in decent working conditions continue to grow. My education was far from over though.

My first job was bagging groceries at the local Kroger, where I was a part of my first and only labor union, but a few years back I got the chance to work for the AFL-CIO's community outreach arm, Working America, where I truly learned what the union experience is all about. Going door to door, canvassing for support, I learned about how real people felt about jobs, the economy, and what it is to be American. I found out that these ideas are intertwined to a staggering degree and that even those who don't support organized labor support the idea of having the right to the best job they qualify for, and the right to have that job provide for them and their families. It only enhanced those feelings from my youth about how much I care about the causes surrounding labor and the right to organize, and only made for added vitriol toward large corporations, such as Wal-Mart, that go to the depths of hell to prevent their workers from unionizing.

It's why though the NFL has a labor union, and I understand the Players Association fighting for what they feel is right, their situation not only doesn't jibe with my union sensibilities, it doesn't interest me whatsoever. I went off for a few paragraphs a few posts back about this very fact, and my ambivalence towards the outcome of the NFL lockout has not wavered in the time since I put those words out for the world wide web to see. Even though I have sympathy for a union fighting for its rights against the company that it works for, the plight of the NFL players is anything but a plight. Instead it is a classic example of a way to alienate fans and treat those that provide the revenue that creates your outlandish paycheck with derision and contempt.

The truth of the matter is that I don't give a damn about labor disputes in professional sports. I have ignored nearly all news about the fight between the players and the owners and the public bickering between Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell as much as I possibly can, despite how difficult the sports media makes this ignorance. What I should be enjoying right now are compelling story lines and off-season shake-ups surrounding the game I love. Instead, I have "sources close to whoever" and "some nobody close to the talks" giving me useless information that doesn't make a damn bit of difference to my existence as a football fan.

See, the NFL is a year-round sport, even if it really only lasts around 5 months. After the regular season, we get the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Then, after a brief hiatus, draft speculation and free agency heats up. Next, the draft happens and trades and roster moves are made as free agents find new homes. Before you know it, OTA's have begun, training camp comes along, Hard Knocks kills it on HBO, and the preseason is here. Then you're on the final turn towards opening weekend, and the process starts all over. The NFL is big in America and it is near ubiquitous in the sporting world. It is a very, very powerful game and one of the biggest businesses in the country.

More than that, its a break from the daily grind, not only on Sundays in the fall, but all year round. It takes your mind off the day job or the problems with your reality, big or small. It lets you into a different world where you can think and talk about the game or your favorite team and forget about your troubles and focus on the progression of a rookie wide-receiver, the addition of a big-time free agent, or the shake-ups in coaching staffs that might affect how a team looks come the regular season. The NFL off-season is important to sports fans, and it has been ripped away from them for no apparent reason.

The lockout is winding down, the two sides are soon to come to an agreement, and no part of the 2011 season will be lost to the labor dispute. I've been of the opinion all along that this was going to be the case, but now that an agreement is actually happening I'm only more upset that the off-season was ruined by the league's labor strife. No matter how you slice it, even for a union supporter, the NFL's long labor battle is still millionaires fighting with billionaires about how much money each side gets.

There have been labor struggles in sports that make sense, like Curt Flood leading the way towards the abolition of the reserve clause in baseball and the formation of the MLB Players Association (HBO just did a doc on Flood and his intriguing fight for justice for ball players, which you can read about here). Since then though, strikes and lockouts have been nothing but bad news for sports. Hockey and baseball saw labor battles scar their leagues for years, and the NBA lost a chunk of one of its seasons to the same greedy arguing (and just might be repeating its own history if their newly initiated lockout doesn't end well). Football players have a bit more to fight for considering the damage they can do to their bodies and the shortness of the average career, but their troubles (if you want to call them that) are nothing compared to what the average worker (read: fan) goes through in the world of work or in a country where the unemployment rate is hovering near the double-digit mark.

Football owners have absolutely no right to moan about the billions of dollars in revenue that their teams create through television rights and ticket sales, and players don't have much more to be teary-eyed or angry about either. For one, if you're an NFL player, chances are that you were a scholarship athlete in college. That means that you had a free ride to track down the necessary skills for a job and life after football. And even if you only play for the average number of years an NFL player lasts (3.5) at the median league salary ($700k, though the average is near $2 million), you could probably still retire the day after you can't hack it anymore and live a comfortable life. Not to mention the added opportunities that arise through coaching positions and jobs in the media, where ex-players are usually the most qualified to find careers in both fields.

So when you're anywhere from wealthy to holy-fucking-shit wealthy from playing a game where you chase a leather ball filled with air around all day, don't expect me or any other fan to sympathize with the fact that your boss won't let you come to work. Especially when everyone knows that football is going to be played eventually anyways and that the money involved can be split up any way you want and both sides will continue to get rich. Fans don't care about what you're going through Drew Brees, so don't lead yours and the other team in a show of solidarity before a game on national television. Same goes for you Tom Brady, for while I know that attaching your name to a lawsuit against the owners in a court case is a symbolic gesture, all it symbolizes to me is a guy fucking Giselle Bundchen and throwing a football for a living bitching about how rough he's got it. The owners and players have said repeatedly that they just know the fans are on their respective side, when in reality we're on our own side, the side that wants both of you to shut up and play.

Perhaps players really don't understand that fans don't want to think how much money they make. If you're like me, you have to put pro athlete salaries out of your head entirely in order to truly enjoy sports, just so you don't get sick to your stomach when you compare the average athlete's salary to that of a teacher or industrial worker or landscaper or short-order cook. Maybe they don't get the fact that all of the public arguments and allusions to slavery are truly in poor taste. It's possible that they don't know that with nothing to talk about, ESPN and every other major sports media outlet will cram a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo down our throats about the NFL when the only thing to focus on are labor issues. If they do understand any of this, they need to shut up and play. If they don't understand it, they need to shut up anyways because every last sports fan in America has had just about enough of all this BS.

At the end of the day, the NFL is probably too big of a money making and marketing machine to let the lockout slow them down, and starving their fans all summer will most likely lead to even more interest in the sport once it actually gets moving towards the beginning of the 2011 season. I'm not sure which one of those facts disgusts me more. Fans have had the door shut in their face, and while they've slept out in the cold, the owners and players have been patiently waiting to let them back in to sit by the fire, no doubt unsurprised that we were still curled up by the door.

The lockout has been ugly, and created a bitterness towards the game inside of me that I don't know will ever leave. I hope that the NBA is taking notes right now, because while the NFL has the luxury of being the sporting equivalent of a dead-beat boyfriend that we just have to take back, the Association doesn't have nearly that cache with sports fans. Like a lover with low self-esteem, we'll take the NFL any way we can get it, because we love it so goddamn much. I just hope fans have learned that those who play and profit from the game they love seem to take their adoration for granted to a nauseating degree.



Whether you want to look at this year's NBA Finals as the one where Dirk finally got his ring or the one where the Miami Heat failed to reach their goal, the six-game series was one of the best closing chapters to a basketball season in recent memory. The NBA lucked out and got two great Finals match-ups two years running now, with the Mavs and Heat giving us just as much intrigue and drama as the Lakers and Celtics did last year. It didn't go seven games, but nearly every single game was full of big runs and thrilling comebacks, coming down to the final possession and reDirkulous heroics more often than not.

It is obligatory when talking about this year's Finals to give the Mavs their propers before moving on to LeBron and the Heatles, so that's what I'mma do too. The Mavericks played spectacular team basketball and Dirk Nowitzki was transcendent. J.J. Barea and Jason Terry were potent scorers. Shawn Marion returned to form as the Matrix. Jason Kidd held it all together. They played a cohesive, collaborative brand of defense and made every big play when they had to. They beat the Heat in 6, something most folks, including this writer, didn't see coming. I picked the Heat at the beginning of the series, but should have known better considering the thumping the Mavs gave my LA Lakers and the resiliency they showed in their opening round series with the Blazers and the Western Conference Finals against the Thunder.

I'm glad to see Dirk get his ring, sort of glad to see Kidd get one (he is a wife-beater after all), and definitely happy to see an entire team full of players that had never won a championship come together as a unit and beat the big bad Miami Heat. Now that I have that out of the way, let's get down to South Beach and talk about the real story from the Finals: LeBron James, D-Wade, and Chris Bosh coming up short on their short-cut to a championship ring. 

If you watch sports long enough, you come to realize that games and series truly have a feel to them. You can stare at stats and match-ups and highlights all you want, but sometimes there is a feel to the game play that lets you know what's really going on. It's that same kind of feeling of impending doom you get when no matter how safe a situation should be, something is amiss. Something doesn't seem right. You have a feeling that something is going to happen. It's exactly how I felt watching the Heat lose this series. There was a vibe, a certain something hanging in the air when they played, that made it clear that they weren't going to get it done.

Even when they went down 3-2 after the three middle games in Dallas, I was still telling anyone that would listen that the Heat were going to prevail. It just made more sense. They were more talented, they were going home for the final two games, they had two of the top five (if not top three) players in the league in Wade and James. But after watching the first half of game six, I realized what my gut had been telling me all along: they weren't ready to win this year. They looked out of sorts in the half-court and confused on defense and their two biggest stars seemed either too reluctant (in the case of James) or too skittish (in the case of Wade) to make plays when they had to. Oh yeah, and Chris Bosh isn't as good as people think he is and not nearly mentally tough enough to play on the size of the stage the Big Three have created for themselves in Miami.

I mean, did you see him after they lost? He was on his knees in the tunnel, crying like a baby. Emotion is what sports is all about, but that kind of stuff you can take home to your girl or your mother if you have to Chris. The guy looked like a whining little kid, not a guy who had poured his heart into this season and was grappling with a gut-wrenching defeat. Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said earlier this season that some of his players were crying in the locker room after one of the team's particularly tough losses. One guess as to who he was talking about.

I know, I know, that might be a petty point to make, but it illustrates the larger problem that this team is facing: an emotional and psychological lack of control. I could break down every single thing that the Heat did wrong on the court, but the truth is, I don't think that's the team's problem. They are immensely talented and will only become better as the years roll on, but what needs to be fixed is their attitude and their psychological resiliency, not their mid-range game or post-up moves. While Bosh is the weepy cherry on top, LeBron James is the hot fudge sundae of frayed nerves that is at the root of the Heat's lack of composure.

I wrote a post a while back about the enormous level of expectation this Heat team created for itself with LeBron's "Decision" and their pre-season victory celebration, and the spotlight they drew on themselves is certainly part of their problem. The bigger issue though, is the expectation level for their best player, LeBron James. James, if he is not already, will soon be the greatest basketball player on planet earth. Just think about that simple fact for a second: imagine being the best in the world at what you do, and how people might look at you if you don't succeed at it. That's a lot to handle, but the greatest players that have played any sport have a near sociopathic imperviousness to the weight of the pressure this creates. They ignore that pressure or thrive on it, they don't keep passing the ball off to teammates and have the body language of a girl who just got stood up on prom night.

James is facing a crossroads in his career that I don't think he was ready for. I think that the move to Miami when he became a free agent should have been the turning point, but if the way he has handled his teammates, his coach, the media, and the general public over the last year is any indication, he needs to do some mental house cleaning before he can start heading in the right direction. The NBA has been waiting for the next Michael Jordan for a while (and I'm one that would tell you that Kobe Bryant is already that guy, but I digress) so there is absolutely no patience or empathy in the heart of most fans for the failings that LeBron has encountered both on and off the court (you can check out Josh Levin's Slate piece about how Michael's shadow is doing bad, bad things to LeBron here).

He has failed twice in the NBA Finals, yes, but more importantly he has failed to grasp a true sense of himself as an athlete and as a celebrity. I think he was truly astounded by how negatively the public reacted to "The Decision" and totally caught off-guard by the fact that he is now a heel in the world of sports. LeBron is a nice guy (maybe too nice). A guy who hosts SNL and the ESPY Awards, a guy that starred in Nike commercials featuring multiple comedic likenesses of himself. He loves being loved, and I think his desire to back that up with success on the court led him to Miami, but did not prepare him for the consequences.

He is now in a place where not only is expectation to be the next Michael Jordan astronomically high, but he doesn't have the fan support to lean on like he did in the past. All he has are his fellow villains in Miami--Wade and Bosh--and a young coach who doesn't seem to have the force of personality to scream him out of his basketball daydream of times gone by--times when he was the GOAT in-waiting and a media darling at the same time. Because of all this, James looks shy when the game is on the line, becoming too willing a passer and timid to shoot the big shot. Joe Posnaski wrote a great piece on James and the Heat's failure in the Finals where he described himself screaming at the television in disbelief that James kept passing the ball in game 6. I was equally appalled, but not as similarly surprised.

LBJ just doesn't feel ready to me. He has every skill a basketball player could desire and is basically an NFL tight-end playing in the NBA. He's fast, he's powerful, he has incredible court vision, he passes effortlessly and accurately, he's developing into a good, soon to be great shooter. His head? That's a whole 'nother story. He should have the mental tenacity of Tiger Woods pre-Thanksgiving-spousal-golf-club-beat-down. Instead he's got the gelatinous gray matter of Tiger post-string-of-banging-gross-skanks-dealing-with-sex-addiction-and-bad-knees-can't-get-his-head-straight. You can ask Eldrich yourself, that's a bad spot to be in.

I've mentioned before that I've always been reluctant to try and get inside an athlete's head, because it's hard to know what someone else is thinking. In LeBron's case, I have an unending desire to sit him down on a reclining leather couch to try and help him through his problems Frasier Crane style. Before this series I never thought I would ever look at LeBron James with sympathy again, but now that it's over I want to simultaneously give the guy a hug and slap him in the face and tell him to act like a man. I don't know which one he needs more, but something has to be done or this guy is going to unravel, mark my words. He needs to talk to someone like MJ or Bird or ideally, Magic, who has that amazing blend of likability and competitive killer instinct that LeBron wants and needs to no end right now.

Because I'm a sports fan, I admire and love watching greatness. It's why I want LeBron to win deep down, and why even after he acts like the epitome of a spoiled athlete, like the way he did during the post-game presser after the Finals loss, I still want him to succeed. I want him to chase Michael's legacy, fill his fists with championship rings, and to be comfortable with where his decisions in life have taken him (perhaps because I have trouble doing this myself...TMI?...sorry). I want him to be the Man, but he needs to get straight between his ears before this can happen. Entitlement is a bitch, and it can catch up to you quick when you've won at life for so long, but now find yourself losing. LeBron James is slowly learning this fact.

To go back to Tiger for a moment, he's always reminded me of a truism that I think also pertains to LeBron: in the world of sports (and the game of life), you doubt greatness at your own peril. I think this is something LeBron needs tattooed on his forehead. He needs to forget the old, fun-loving LeBron and embrace his role as villain the way he claims that he already has. He needs to get his own version of MJ's fist pump or Kobe's underbite. He needs to want the other team dead before he lets them beat him, and needs to be the one leading the charge with a battle axe in his hands. He needs to shut the people who doubt him up quick, and like I've said before, I still think he will. I think...



Before any of this gets started, and in case you didn't already know, I'll tell you that I'm a Los Angeles Lakers fan. A big one actually. I've loved Kobe Bryant since he came into the league and started loving the team that he plays for a short time later. Ever since then, the Lakers have been one of my "we" teams. It's a designation that I only use with three sports teams in the world: the Ohio State Buckeyes, the Detroit Tigers, and the aforementioned LA Lakers. 

If I talk about these teams, I say "we". I say it like I'm a part of the team, but what it really means is that the team is a part of me. They take up large chunks of my brain space and their performances have an affect on my overall mood and well being. Their losses hit hard, ruining the days and nights and weeks spent watching them, and their wins can lift me similarly, painting a smile on my face and placing a lilt in my heart that endures long after contests and seasons are complete.

For me, one of my "we" teams is already in some big trouble and causing me unwanted stress, they being the Ohio State Buckeyes football program. I say "we" for all of the Buckeye teams, but the football team at OSU is really the original "we" team for me. I have loved Ohio State since I was knee high to a grasshopper and the Buckeyes are mired in controversy and dogged by looming NCAA sanctions; with the fate of head coach Jim Tressel currently hanging in the balance and the future of the program floating somewhere in the ether. 

While OSU is being put through the investigatory ringer and the autumn of 2011 fraught with uncertainty and probable doom, I thought that I at least had the Lakers to make my summer vibrant and enjoyable, with another ride to the NBA Finals likely and a third consecutive championship possible, if no longer as certain as I may have thought at the season's start.

That all changed when the Lakers played the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of this year's NBA playoffs. When they were swept out of the playoffs 4 - 0 in their seven game series with Dallas, when they flat-out embarrassed themselves on national television time and again, with a disgraceful 36 point loss on Sunday putting the icing on a cake made of a Kentucky Derby-sized pile of horse manure. The day after the Derby, the Lakers were blown right of the gym and acted like a bunch of spoiled children who had their favorite toy taken away, alternating between a pouty, unprecedented petulance and a tantrum-throwing disregard for their coach, their star player, and the purple and gold uniforms they wore that day.

It is likely head coach Phil Jackson's last memory as a Laker coach, and it was crushed into a potent nugget of disappointment by the Dallas Mavericks as he was disobeyed and disgraced by his players. The Lakers not only committed the grievous sin of quitting on their leader, but also committed ugly, unprofessional fouls down the stretch that cannot be called anything other than dirty plays. With their season coming to an end thanks to a Dallas team that seemed better than them at every facet of the game and one of their best players in Pau Gasol moping around the court like the jilted lover he is rumored to be, the Lakers decided to play dirty and without class, committing fouls that had no other intention than to harm players on the other team under the guise of extreme frustration.

The Lakers were rightly disappointed, down 3 - 0 to a team that had proven in those first three games that they were clearly the better squad. The Mavericks were faster, more determined, and locked-in on their goal, three things that the Lakers perhaps did not expect, and seemed unable to return in kind with their effort on the court. So as the season drew to a close and with one of their players, Ron Artest, already marred by a dirty play in game 2 that led to a suspension in game 3, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum decided to act like bullies and turn their sub-par performance into an absolute disrespect for their opponent and head coach by flagrantly fouling Dirk Nowitzki and J.J. Barea respectively. These were dirty, nasty, uncalled for plays that left me aghast not only as a Laker fan, but a fan of professional basketball in general.

Phil Jackson is perhaps the greatest head coach in the history of sports, with 11 championship rings and a trio of three-peats under his belt. He announced early on this year that it would be his last with the Lakers, and Kobe Bryant seemed determined to help Phil go out on the right note by completing a fourth three-peat and giving Jackson an even 12 for his career. Instead, the team that Kobe has led alongside Phil for over a decade crumbled under the pressure of trying to win their third consecutive championship and melted down in front of a sold-out crowd in Dallas and millions of fans watching the game at home.

Lamar Odom might as well have had hockey pads on the way he blatantly checked Nowitzki at the top of the key in the fourth quarter, which was bad enough. But minutes later, Bynum threw an elbow into Barea's rib-cage while the diminutive point guard was mid-air near the basket, watching the young man crash to the ground with what was enough force to knock the living daylights out of him. They were both egregious fouls that led to the players' ejection from the game and do not speak to the character of Jackson or the pride of the Lakers, who have won 16 world championships in the NBA.

What those fouls and this swift exit from the playoffs have done to the legacy of both Phil Jackson and Kobe Bryant remains to be seen. Jackson was pursuing an amazing 12th title, while Bryant was searching for his 6th, something that his idol Michael Jordan achieved playing under Jackson himself. In the long run, Jackson will likely return to coach another team after a hiatus with a chance to rekindle his legacy, and Bryant will continue to play under a new coach and doggedly seek his 6th ring, but the game did little for either in terms of the public perception of their greatness.

My "we" team let me down. Okay, it's a bummer, I'll just have to wait 'til next year. But the way the Lake-Show went out this season has me still scratching my head these two days later, and wondering how Bryant will be able to continue with the cast of characters he has around him. Dallas most assuredly exposed the retooled Laker bench as markedly inadequate, but there are deeper issues at play. Rumors are swirling in Los Angeles that Bryant's wife contributed to the end of Pau Gasol's long-term relationship with a girlfriend, leaving the Spanish power forward listless and uninterested in playing meaningful basketball. Odom's hard foul on Nowitzki and uncharacteristically lackluster playoff performance point to his level of distraction in Los Angeles, where he is a reality TV star and husband to a Kardashian, a truly unfortunate combination for a professional athlete.

Bynum, while young, showed a level of immaturity that cannot be attributed solely to his age, and the Lakers rock-solid, but obviously slow point guard Derek Fisher may have turned from "veteran leader" to "aging liability" right before our eyes. I'm not one to panic when it comes to my "we" teams, but the truth is that something has to be done in LA if Kobe is going to end his career as the legend he wants to. He is already a five-time champion and one of the top-five talents the game has ever seen in my eyes, but in order to move from an honored resident in the House of NBA Legends and start down the hallway to the wing where players like Michael and Magic rest, he needs another ring and even more proof of worth on his already crowded resume.

My guess is that the gears in Kobe's head are already turning and he is making a list of those he does and does not want around him next season. A list that includes players and coaches and one that the management and ownership in LA has to abide by in some way shape or form. Say what you want to about Kobe's off-the-court and on-the-court personality and proclivities, the man is as determined an athlete as the sporting world has ever seen, and this writer seriously doubts that we have seen the last of his greatness. Los Angeles is a city of stars, and Kobe is among its brightest. I have a feeling that we'll find out just how hard he'll burn in the coming months and NBA off-season, and I hope that my "we" team bounces back from this inglorious exit and makes me a proud Laker fan once again.

If not, I've still got Justin Verlander and the Detroit Tigers to try and pick me up, and a no-hitter in May sure isn't a bad place to start...



The anticlimactic moment has always been at the top of the list of disappointment for a sports fan. The world of sports is built on moments of high drama, where the line between victory and defeat is finally erased and one team goes home exuberant, while the other hides their head in the sand. As viewers and fans, we want the walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth, the game-winning fourth quarter drive, the overtime goal, or the last second buzzer beater. The dramatic finish helps a game or an athlete live on in our memories as the seasons carry on and new opportunities for greatness manifest themselves.

If we can't be spoiled with such legend-making plays, we at least want an entertaining game and competitive action in any contest, and this is especially true in a sport's championship game. Unfortunately for college basketball fans, none of the things that make sports worth watching were on display Monday night when Butler and UConn met to decide the National Championship in Houston. The game was by all accounts an ugly affair, and that is treating it with the softest of kid gloves. To get down to brass tacks, it was a horrendous display of the game James Naismith created and was a whimper of epic proportions after a fantastic tournament filled with numerous memorable moments and compelling story lines.

Butler played one of the worst offensive games I have ever watched as a basketball fan, and while UConn didn't play much better, they looked like world-beaters next to what CBS analyst Clark Kellogg called the "unparalleled ineptitude" of the Bulldog shooters (more on CK in a minute), including the team's two stars Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard, who shot a combined 5 of 28 from the field. Butler made three two-point baskets all game and waited until well into the second half of play to score a single point in the paint. They went 12 of 64 from the field as a team, leading to a jaw-dropping and championship game record-low field goal percentage of 18%.

I've heard sports pundits and radio jocks talk about UConn's length and defensive tenacity all day long after last night's cringe-worthy action, but the truth is that the kids from Indianapolis are the ones to blame for their defeat. UConn just had to show up and play halfway up to their potential (which they did...barely, shooting a paltry 34% themselves) to take out the team that was playing in its second consecutive National Championship game. There was no trouble finding a ticket to Monday's game in Reliant Stadium, and I bet by halftime even those who got a great deal on their seats were contemplating an alternative way to spend their Monday night.

There was a point in the second half where I felt the kind of third-party embarrassment usually reserved for a scene from "Swingers".  John Favreau and an answering machine got nothing on the kind of humiliation I felt for the Bulldog shooters though, who not only couldn't hit a three pointer to save their lives, but didn't find a way to put in even a layup for what seemed like an eternity. I guess I didn't even feel bad for the Butler kids, really, but more of a personal sadness from having to watch a championship game where a team couldn't play dead and was still never really out of the game.

Apparently UConn couldn't find it in it's heart to shoot the wounded horse named Butler, which only added to the game's complete lack of compelling moments. Even the best player on the floor and the tournament's Most Outstanding Player, the dynamic Kemba Walker, put on a pedestrian offensive performance (5 of 19 for 16 points). While I appreciate a great defensive effort as much as the next guy, I was ready to put aspirin in my Coke rather than continue to watch Butler die a slow death on national television last night.

For UConn though, a National Championship is a National Championship is a National Championship (shout out to Ms. Stein). I'm sure they don't care how poorly they or their opponent played, because at the end of the day, they get to put up another banner back in Storrs. And I'm also guessing Coach Jim Calhoun isn't sweating about the way he got to join a very elite club with his third National Championship as a head coach. The Huskies made a truly incredible post-season run, winning five games in the brutal Big East Tournament followed by the clinching six wins in the Big Dance. Congrats to the kids from UConn, even though if I had to watch the game that brought them a championship again, I might pry out my eye balls.

The championship game aside, the tournament itself was another great, mad ride through March. From Shaka Smart's VCU Rams making the Final Four, to the head-shaking fouls that decided the Pitt/Butler game, to all four No. 1 seeds falling by the wayside, this year's tournament was another lesson in the dramatic power of the Big Dance. I think if you would have told anybody with more than a passing interest in college hoops that none of the four number ones would make it to Houston and VCU would be playing Butler for the right to be in the championship game they would have promptly laughed you out of the room or put an incredulous hand to your forehead to make sure you weren't delirious with fever.

Adding to the allure of the tournament's unexpected excitement this year was the additional coverage provided by TNT, TBS, and TruTV, which allowed for the opportunity to see every single game of the tournament for the first time in its existence. CBS let the other guys in and let fans follow whatever team they liked (and test their remote control acumen), providing the kind of blanket coverage that folks had been clamoring to get for the past decade or so. We've had the technology to bring every game to live TV for years and I'm glad the dollar signs lined up right this year so fans (and the networks) could reap the respective benefits.

Of course, there's always one moment that sticks out among the rest, and personally, it has to be Kentucky's Brandon Knight draining a jumper to take out my beloved and No. 1 seeded Ohio State Buckeyes, who were also my pick to win it all in my bracket. That bracket, by the way, was fireplace fodder nearly immediately and only one of the teams I picked to make the Final Four did so, that being National Champions UConn. I said that the Buckeyes would have to lay an egg to get beat (no pun intended), and they proved me right by shooting a shade over 30% from the field against the Wildcats. They also made for a difficult night at the bar that Saturday, where I was surrounded by folks in UK blue puffing up their chests. Oh well, there's always next year Bucks.

Another highlight for this writer that I alluded to earlier was the color commentary of Clark Kellogg, who just happens to be a former Buckeye hoopster himself. Kellogg was paired with Jim Nance throughout the tournament and the tandem was joined by another insightful voice, Steve Kerr, for the Final Four and championship game. Kellogg is not only knowledgeable and observant, but has a way with words that would make any writer proud. All tournament long, Kellogg subtly and tastefully reinvigorated the language surrounding the game and reworked and reinterpreted a litany of basketball bromides when he wasn't foregoing them altogether.

It isn't the ball, it's "the orange" or "the pumpkin", that wasn't a steal you just saw, it was a "pilfer". The player that can thrive both inside the paint and out near the three-point line? He's "reversible clothing". It's not only jargon he's having fun with though. As I watched a Final Four match-up on Saturday, I had to find a pen to take note of his analysis of a shooter getting on a roll. There are a lot of tired cliches concerning a player making one bucket and turning it into a streak, but I just love Kellogg's way of putting it: "One goes in and that basket becomes cavernous." I don't remember Billy Packer ever waxing that poetic. Props to CK on a job well done.

So, March has come to an end and the sporting life can go back to normal for a bit, allowing the baseball season to get its wheels turning and the paths leading to the NBA and NHL playoffs to near their own end. There's nothing quite like the NCAA Tournament in the world of sports, and though the championship game exclamation point turned out to be more of a barely visible semicolon, the basketball sentence it completed was still one of the best tournaments in recent memory. I'm contemplating a move away from sports for the next post, something I've flirted with in the past and am excited to give a try. One cannot live on athletic bread alone after all. See you soon.