Archive for the ‘Athletics’ Category

Medicine has come a long way since the days when the Egyptians were performing lobotomies without the aid of anesthesia. Since 1846, when a dentist, Dr. William Thomas Green Morton first used ether as an inhalation anesthetic to accomplish painless surgery to today, when a variety of drugs are used for that purpose, medicine has jumped by leaps and bounds…except for one small problem. It seems to me that medicine and its practitioners have been working in a vacuum by not, until very recently, considering the cause and effect of outside influencers on medical advances, eg, how severely concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) can affect one’s life.

Dr. Robert Cantu and his team at Boston University are at the forefront in the study of CTE, which, to quote from their website, “is a progressive degenerative disease of the brain found in people with a history of repetitive brain trauma, including symptomatic concussions as well as subconcussive hits to the head that do not cause symptoms.” Brandy Chastain, FIFA Gold Medalist soccer player and coach, recently made news by willing her brain to the CTE Center at BU, and, hopefully, other athletes in other sports, professional and amateur, will follow in her footsteps.

Back in the days when my basketball career was in full bloom – what a crock – nearly any type of contact would result in a foul. As a consequence, it was rare for us to get really knocked around while playing the game. Today, it’s a different story. I watch, as collegians and professional hoopsters hit the floor and often bounce their heads off the hardwood. Are they concussed? I don’t know, and it’s very possible that they have no effects. It is my understanding that these “subconcussive” blows to the head may also lead to CTE. To once more quote Dr. Cantu and the BU team, “At this time the number or type of hits to the head needed to trigger degenerative changes of the brain is unknown. In addition, it is likely that other factors, such as genetics, may play a role in the development of CTE, as not everyone with a history of repeated brain trauma develops this disease. However, these other factors are not yet understood.”

All of this raises a number of questions on my part. For example, when a diver falls 33 feet or dives from the 10 meter platform, what is the effect on his or her head when they hit the water? Is it possible that the subconcussive effect of this effort, repeated hundreds or even thousands of times depending on the extent to which the diver competes, say up to the Olympic level, a potentially dangerous form of competition that could lead to CTE?

If you’ve never had a concussion, you’re fortunate. To the best of my knowledge, my experience centers around three events. The first was a slip on ice in the driveway very early in the morning in which I was unconscious for less than a minute. I lost my glasses, saw more stars than were actually shining down on me, and was somewhat nauseous. The second time was at an automotive repair shop when I skidded on some unseen sand and grease. The fall wasn’t quite the caliber of the first but the stars returned and the dizziness was in full bloom. The final tumble took place as I was leaving the gym. A new medication was working in consort with an older one; combined with what had been a good workout, the two dropped my blood pressure to “pass out range.” I awoke to find an IV in my arm and my body in an ambulance headed to the hospital. The most interesting part of this fall was that at no time during my day-long stay at the hospital did one doctor or nurse tell me that I was concussed. The egg on the back of my head told me that a concussion was a genuine possibility. I treated it as such and remained as flat as possible with the lighting kept to the barest minimum. It wasn’t until a few days later, when I was speaking with my primary care physician, that the subject of concussion even came up.

Now that we know the extent to which concussions and subconcussive blows to the head can lead to degenerative brain disease, it seems to me that we should be taking a second, third, fourth, and more looks as to how our children’s heads are protected during athletic competition. How safe are the helmets worn in football, baseball, lacrosse, and hockey competition? What other sports should be considering the use of helmets? What are the sports equipment manufacturers doing to lessen the impact on the brain? Before parents allow their children to become involved in certain types of athletic competition, maybe they should consider the consequences that could occur later in life.

Read Full Post »

When I was young, we used to play tackle football without pads and without helmets. A gang of us would get together on a Sunday morning on the high school field and go at it. We didn’t dislike each other; matter of fact, we were all friends…except when we were on opposite sides of the ball. Yes, ten yards gained you a first down, and you had four downs to do it. So far, everything – except the pads, of course – sound familiar? There were, however, some major differences. Our tackling techniques were not intended to hurt the ball carrier or to hurt ourselves. Oh, sure, we all got bloodied at some point, and perhaps there were a few twisted ankles, sprains, and once someone had to go for stitches. It had nothing to do with the game; some asshole had broken a bottle on the field and somebody fell on it with his arm…no big deal.

The point is that I don’t remember anyone ever getting knocked out in our games. We weren’t playing for blood; we were playing football for fun. Most of us were too skinny or too scared to put on pads and play football for our high schools. When I was a freshman, I played for the high school, but getting blocked once by Charlie Chalmes – his family owned the Greek restaurant in town – convinced me that pad, helmet, and high school varsity was something in which I would lose either interest or my life in a very short time. I opted for basketball, which at that time, was nothing like the contact sport it has become today.

While it may be difficult for younger people to understand, I’m not certain that soccer was even a word in our vocabulary. Oh, sure, there were hockey games at Reed’s Pond or in the flooded area down by Golleme’s Garage, but organized hockey at the high school level? What, are you nuts? Even in the pick-up games, rarely would someone be checked into a snow bank or intentionally tripped [wink, wink]. I remember George White telling the story of skating in one of those games and three times the same stranger – a bit older than George – stick handled the puck away from him. After the third time, when there was a break, George told this ‘man in black,’ that “You do that one more time you son-of-a-bitch, and I’m gonna shove my stick up your ass,” or words to that effect. Suffice it to say that George’s language was not that which could be used in mixed company. The man just smiled and skated away. Having overheard the comments, a couple of George’s friends came over. “Hey,” George, one of them said, “You shouldn’t talk like that to Father Heery.” Yes, George was embarrassed; yes, he skated over to the collarless man in black and apologized. The good Father responded that there were many times he felt as George did, but God was responsible for him keeping his cool. I have never forgotten that story, and while George and I talk or IM a bit, we don’t talk about that particular incident. Father Heery also coached the CYO basketball team on which this “Black Proddy,” as he called me, was allowed to play. Priests move from parish to parish, and the good Father was no different. He died in 1996 as The Very Reverend Cornelius J. Heery. He was a good person, and while I have digressed to speak of him, I will also tell you that I pray for his soul each evening

Getting back to the original point of this piece, I don’t recall any of the young men who played on the high school football team ever suffering ‘concussions.’ I don’t believe we knew what concussions were in those days. Of course, few schools had weight rooms or strength coaches. Today everything is different. Announcers talk about linemen who can bench 900 pounds, weigh 350, and can do the 40 in 4.5 seconds. The hits seem to be harder, more vicious and hurtful, and it appears that each play is viewed as an opportunity to put someone from the other side down and out for the rest of the game, the season, the career, or – with luck – in the ground permanently. You don’t have to agree or disagree; I’m merely telling you what it looks like to me. It used to be that, “kill the quarterback” was a figurative expression. From what I see today, it’s now used literally.

I wonder what would happen if we took away all of the pads that are used in football, hockey, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, and any other sport that demands pads? How would the players react? How about the coaches; the alumni; the millions of viewers who tune in to vicariously participate in their favorite rock ‘em, sock ‘em, athletic adventure? At the very top of the collegiate level, fund raising would suffer tremendously. Winning teams mean development officers more easily get the $$$ that help them to keep their jobs. Raising money for academics is more difficult than raising it for athletics.

Our knowledge base has increased tremendously over the past fifty or sixty years. Somehow, when it comes to athletic competition, however, that knowledge has been used to teach us how to inflict greater pain and more violence than it has in improving actual skill level. We’ve learned that not everyone learns at the same rate, but we haven’t learned what happens to the human body and mind when it is subjected to repeated violent encounters on a regular basis…and that’s too bad.


Read Full Post »


“I cried because I had no hat till I saw a man who had no coat.
I cried because I had no coat till I saw a man who had no shirt.
I cried because I had no shirt till I saw a man who had no socks,
I cried because I had no socks till I saw a man who had no shoes.
I cried because I had no shoes till I saw a man who had no feet.
I cried because I had no feet till I saw a man who had no legs.
I cried because I had no legs till I saw a man who had no life.”

The author of this poem, to be best of my research and knowledge, is unknown. Some say that it’s somewhere in the Holy Bible, although no one seems to be able to find it. Others attest that it is an ancient Persian Proverb, and there is research to support that thinking. Attribution to a single author, however, is sadly lacking. Whatever and whoever may be responsible for this aphorism, it is something with which each and every person should identify.

I’d love to have a larger pension; then I talk with someone whose IRA was stolen by this crook or that, and now they have damn near nothing. I’d love to be able to go someplace warm in the winter; then I hear about people who have lost their homes to foreclosure or to tornadoes. I’d love to get a new car, and then I see the people who don’t have cars and rely on public transportation. I’d love a lot of things, but I read that proverb and think, “You really are one lucky son-of-a-gun; you have three children who are successful; you have nine wonderful grandchildren; you have a roof over your head, reasonably good health, and twice you have been blessed by women who love you and whom you love. What the hell more could you want out of your life? Go ahead and die tomorrow ‘cause it doesn’t get much better than this.”

Lately, the Boston news media have been covering the situation of David Ortiz, the designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz was a great acquisition from the Minnesota Twins when the Red Sox traded for him. He has been a wonderful addition to the roster and certainly has, in part, been responsible for the success of the team over the past few years. Ortiz, however, has a bit of a problem. It seems that a $12.5 million dollar a year contract is not enough money for Ortiz to stay in Boston. He wants the Red Sox to either ante up or he’ll go where the money is. Ortiz is 37-years old, and in major league baseball parlance, that’s getting near the end of a career. Ortiz’s net worth is $45 million; that sure seems to me to be enough to put his three kids through college; to buy a few homes here and there; and  still have a couple of bucks left to buy a new car or two each year. If, per chance, you don’t agree that Ortiz should be making much more money than he is, you are, in his own words, a “hater.”

On the one hand, Ortiz says that he loves Boston, that it’s his city, that he loves playing baseball here; after the Marathon Bombing last April, Ortiz addressed the Fenway faithful, saying in part, “This is our fucking city. And nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.” That it came from the heart, there can be no doubt; that he went on to have a great season, there can be no doubt; that his contribution to the 2013 World Series Championship, there can be no doubt, but David, I have some words for you…”You didn’t do it alone; I can’t begin to name every other player, but each one contributed in some way to that World Series win.” Twelve point five million dollars a year is a lot of money for anyone to be making, particularly when there are so many who are making less than twelve thousand dollars per year. Yes, Ortiz, like any professional athlete, can suffer a career-ending injury at any time, but with a current net worth such as his, there should not be a problem.

Should Boston allow Ortiz to go elsewhere? No, no, this is a case where John Henry and company should ante up. Ortiz means a great deal to this city, but to be really great, both sides should come together before the start of the season in a sensible fashion. That means that Ortiz stops publicly speaking about his salary and that the Red Sox make a fair and equitable offer that will allow him to finish his career at Fenway Park.

Perhaps I’m wrong to pick on David; in fact, I’m not really picking on him. He just happens to be the most public figure on the greed scale at the moment. I was talking with Ted Williams years ago. We were walking across the campus at Babson while his son was speaking with folks in the Admission Office. We talked about a lot of things, but I remember Ted saying how much he loved playing baseball. “Where else can you have a job that is playing a kids’ game every day, outdoors in the sun, and they pay you money for doing it?” he asked…or words that were certainly very close to that. I later heard some line like that in a movie and it reminded me of Williams.

Times have changed since the Williams days. I’m not certain that there isn’t more pressure to build that bank account because who knows what’s around the corner; what the economy is going to do; what climate change may hold for us. It’s a “Get it while you can” mentality and that may be fine, but what’s enough? How much is too much? What do we do to help those with nothing? Better yet, how do we help those who have given their body parts on our behalf…the men and women who have defended our country and paid for it so dearly? We may cry because we only feel deprived; how about those who have actually been deprived?

Read Full Post »

There are times when the arrogance of my own country, particularly toward its citizenry, is so shocking that something must be said. The chutzpah displayed by President Obama in his first term to get a national health care bill into law, while admirable, has proven ill-conceived, poorly-promoted, and terribly presented to the American public. From a document that is so long few will read it, to hiring a company with a proven record of failure to computerize it, the health care bill has been, and I fear will continue to be nothing short of disastrous. Rather than simplify matters further by delaying implementation until the whole damned thing is ready, the President and the Democrats use the arguments that “the other side” is just being – once again – the party of “No.” I don’t care for John ‘The Orange Man’ Boehner; neither do I have any great love for Mitch ‘Lizard Lips’ McConnell, but when they say that this is not a good bill, they are correct. So it’s “Fuck you Americans and full-speed ahead because we just have to prove a point.”

Before you think I’m fully praising the Republican Party, hold on a second. They have shown their arrogance and “Screw you citizens” in equal measure. It all depends on which party is in power. When Georgie involved us in an unwinnable war in the Middle East, he was merely proving that he was born with the proverbial silver foot in his mouth. Going after Osama bin Laden by attacking Iraq makes about as much sense as Bush’s comment regarding Afghan fighters, “”And they have no disregard for human life.”

However, it is now evident that it’s not only Washington that has a complete disregard for the public in general. Well, perhaps there have been a few signs before this; you know, things like the mortgage tragedy; the fact that parts of Louisiana still haven’t recovered from Katrina; bailing out the auto industry and big Wall Street Firms while allowing one in four American children to live in poverty. Now it’s extended to the field of collegiate athletics as the cancellation of a domestic airline flight to fly the University of Florida basketball team to Connecticut has shown. Here is just another case where the lives of average Americans were usurped because something as stupid as a collegiate hoops contest was deemed to be more important. To compound this travesty, passengers were told that their plane had mechanical problems. Meanwhile, the passengers were watching the Gator basketball team board ‘their’ plane.

Don’t get me wrong; I admire Billy Donovan and the job he’s done at Florida. I was a big fan of former UConn coach Jim Calhoun as far back as his days of coaching at Northeastern. This isn’t about the two programs; it’s about the manner in which Americans were treated by other Americans because some idiot thought that transporting a college sports team was more important than anything the other passengers had to do. One person reportedly missed a funeral over this stupidity. I’m surprised the airline – Delta in this case – didn’t say that they had polled every passenger. What the hell; if you’re going to tell a lie, you might as well make it a big one. Do you suppose that if this had been the University of Florida Drama Club and orchestra, preparing to present Camelot in a national competition at the University of Connecticut, the same courtesy would have been extended? No, of course not, but this is ‘D1’ basketball which brings millions of dollars into the coffers of the two teams involved as well as into the treasury of the NCAA. As one newspaper reported, “At the end of the day, a game was put ahead of people’s lives—and for that much, there’s no worthy explanation or defense.”

This mentality – athletics taking precedence over common sense, politicians exercising their right to use power over understanding – is a disturbing sign for our country. Recently, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development administered the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) exams to 15-year old students from over 60 countries. About half a million students from North and South America, Europe, Asia and some countries in the Middle East took the exams.  America failed to reach the top twenty in any of the tested subjects. Overall, the USA ranked 36th in math, reading, and science. I cannot recall when, if ever, an American athlete has been that far down the rankings in any Olympic event, can you.

In fairness, the United States has never faired all that well in the PISA test since the testing began in 1964.  Despite this, we are still considered the world leader for innovative development. It’s somewhat difficult to understand the dichotomy between standardized testing and real world production, innovation and economic development. Do we have a problem with our education system in this country? Yes, yes we do; our problem is that we are willing to spend more money on athletics than we are on academics. Does athletic participation help to broaden the individual? It appears to be so for those who wish to participate and are sufficiently talented to do so. Even the term “dumb jock” is heard less and less, particularly in intercollegiate athletics although it seems to be getting replaced with criminal behavior on the part of athletes.

It seems to me that the politicians in Washington don’t really understand their constituents, what they want or what they really need. It’s time that we understand that our political process is broken and needs some serious revision. And it seems to me that much of this country’s fascination with athletics needs to be toned down to the point of sanity, and a greater amount of money, time, and research done to guarantee that our children – from kindergarten to terminal degree – receive the very best education to allow them to continue to compete in a real world environment.

Read Full Post »

Becoming a member of a high school, college, or professional athletic team does not mean that one must get sodomized by other members of the team. Having a pine cone, a pencil, a broken flagpole, or a baseball bat or hockey stick stuffed up your butt is not “what everyone else goes through,” nor is it an appropriate rite of passage. Having to drink urine or actually get raped by a teammate’s penis, or in the case of women, a dildo, does not contribute to one’s maturation process. Drowning while attempting to walk across a swollen river does not prove you are a man; it proves you’re an idiot.

These are a sampling of the hazing procedures that have taken place…in 2013. These aren’t historic cases from eons ago. These are now. In a number of cases, police have become involved and some of the more senior team members are facing sexual battery charges. In a case at Virginia State University, charges of manslaughter are being sought against several students after two freshmen were swept away attempting to cross a river that had been engorged by unusually heavy rainfall.

It appears that hazing, rather than losing its luster after the death of a marching band member at Florida A & M, has actually been gaining in popularity. At Towson University (MD), the entire girls cheerleading team has been suspended from competition for a year after discovery of a hazing incident. “Hazing in any form will not be tolerated at Towson University. We hold high expectations for all of our students and their conduct as leaders, both on and off campus,” Deb Moriarty, Towson University’s vice president for student affairs, said in the statement. “Out of concern for students’ privacy and their rights to due process that includes their right to appeal the suspension, it would be inappropriate for the university to comment further.” Meanwhile, the executive director of the American Association of Cheerleading Coaches and Administrators appears to feel that the punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Since the school is in ‘no comment’ mode, as it should be, perhaps the head of the cheerleading association should have no comment at all.

Sodomy with their fingers seems to be a favorite hazing technique for this academic year. Five Plano (IL) high school students are facing criminal charges, including criminal sexual assault, aggravated battery and unlawful restraint after finger-fucking a younger basketball player. What I really don’t understand is the attitude of Eric Weis, Kendall County State’s attorney…”It wouldn’t meet the legal definition of what we consider hazing but it’s as close as you can come.” What do you want, Mr. State’s attorney, to have the kid butt-fucked by the entire team as halftime entertainment?

More and more institutions have adopted a zero tolerance policy when it comes to hazing during initiation for any kind of club, athletic or not. The problem comes when hazing is reported and the reporter becomes the victim. Such was the case at Milford, MA when a football coach saw what he considered to be hazing and blew his top. He was fired for yelling at the boys doing the hazing. The superintendent of schools – who was not in the locker room, by the way – has described the incident as “inappropriate rough-housing.” Can you say “cover my ass?”

There is no place for physical assault of any kind on any individual for any reason…ever. When I pledged a fraternity many moons ago, sure, I got my pant-covered butt slapped with “the paddle,” but my pants were never down to my knees nor was my butt ever exposed…and ours was one considered to have a pretty tough initiation process.

Today, it appears that there is no regard for a person’s dignity during the initiation process. The New England Patriots have a tradition of cutting the hair of the new players after they’ve made the team. It’s looked on as a part of the welcoming process…and some of the haircuts are pretty weird. This is a far cry from holding a younger high school football player down while an upperclassman rubs the younger one’s face with his genetalia. That is just plain sick.

Hazing has become humiliation. It has no place in high school or college. It’s about time that more colleges and universities joined places like Towson and say, “We will have zero tolerance for any form of hazing and will suspend or expel anyone so charged with that offense.” In other words, grow a pair Mr., Ms., Dean, and Doctor; grow a pair and stand your ground. You may lose your popularity, but you just might prevent a suicide or a murder.

Read Full Post »

I’m a New Englander, born and bred. I’m also …correction…I have been at different points in my life, an ardent Boston sports fan. I remember when Pumpsie Green became the first Black man to play for the Boston Red Sox, and the Sox were the last major league team to have a minority on their roster…I said, “sports fan” not sports fanatic. It had been twelve years since Jackie Robinson had broken baseball’s color barrier, but hey, what can I tell you?

I’m old enough to remember going to a National League game at Braves Field on Commonwealth Avenue to watch Earl Torgeson, Tommy Holmes,  Sam Jethroe, Sibi Sisti, and the whole crowd. Compared to the stadiums of today, that was like a Little League field; no wonder they left Boston. While I never did get to wherever the hell the Boston Patriots were playing at the time, I was wise enough to realize that football is played in weather that is generally fit only for mad dogs and Englishmen. George Pyne, an old friend from the Cape (Cod, that is) played for them; then got traded to San Diego. He hung up his cleats when they wanted to ‘shoot up’ his knees for every game.

The Boston Bruins – pronounced “Broons” if you’re from around here – had the Kraut Line of Bobby Bauer, Woody Dumart and Milt Schmidt and later a couple of hotshots named Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson. I was never a huge hockey fan, but everyone in Boston became a fan in that 1969-1970 season when Orr took a pass from Sanderson to beat the St. Louis Blues to win Lord Stanley’s cup.

These were all tough people. From Ted Williams and Walt Dropo, of the Sox, Tommy Heinsohn and Jim Lusctucoff of the Celtics, any member of the Pats and Bruins, these were hardened competitors. The thing is that I don’t recall one of them being hauled into court on domestic violence, armed robbery, drunk driving, or murder charges. What has happened? I’m not talking about Boston professional sports teams only; I’m speaking of professional sports teams everywhere. Steroids and drug use, lying to Congress and expecting to get away with it; committing acts of mayhem and violence, are these the heroes we want our kids to emulate? Thankfully, my Little League catcher son had Carlton Fisk as a role model!

There are still plenty of heroes in professional sports. Unfortunately, these are the same people whose names never appear on police reports. These are the people who don’t believe they’re bigger than they truly are. These are the folks who know that they’re not above the law and act accordingly. They go to practice or to a game; they do their job…well or not so well, depending on the game, and then they pack it in and move on.

Then there are “the others;” These are the people who believe they should be allowed to do any damned thing they wish and get away with it. Since the last Super Bowl, 28 players from the NFL have been arrested. Few can rank up there with Aaron Hernandez of the New England Patriots who has been arrested for one murder and may find himself facing additional charges. Ausar Walcott of the Cleveland Browns found himself charged with attempted murder after punching a man in the head outside a club in New Jersey. The Browns, as did the Patriots with Hernandez, released Walcott from their roster immediately.

The list goes on and on. There’s no need to recite the arrests, allegations, or suspensions. What these idiots fail to realize or more likely don’t give a damn about, is that they are – like it or not, Charles Barkley – role models for young kids. It’s just something that goes with the talent and the territory. When hockey players drop the gloves on the ice, everybody cheers. If those same hockey players beat someone to death, the cheers would turn to jeers and questions of why that happened. Fights are a part of hockey. They shouldn’t be, but they are. Do that in college and you’re suspended for one game or more. Basketball players get into fights on the court; emotions run high; there’s big money at stake. Off the court, for the most part, you hear comparatively little about them. The steroid scandal in baseball is bad but the guilty are now being punished. They may never be heard from again, but should we do so, you can bet your boots they’ll behave a bit differently.

It’s time that professional athletes be informed once more what they mean to their fans. David Ortiz’s outburst the other day was totally out of line. By his actions he has given permission for everyone who roots for him and the Red Sox permission to blow off steam by destroying something in the immediate vicinity. I didn’t happen to see where that “called strike” was, but I certainly have never seen the emotional Ortiz lose his cool that way. Remember what you mean to Boston, David.

I suppose it’s easy for professional athletes to believe they’re something special. In point of fact, they are; great talent; great ability; great paychecks…that does not give them the right to humiliate themselves, their teams or their fans. You’re not gods, guys; get over yourselves.

Read Full Post »

I don’t wish to complain about the punishment handed to Lance Armstrong recently. The International Cycling Union and the US Anti-Doping Agency have, in all probability, done a fine job of investigating the circumstances under which Armstrong and the Postal Team doped their way to seven Tour de France championships.  Did he deserve to have his medals taken away and his name erased from the record books? Of course he did…in exactly the same way in which players in any sport deserve to have their names removed from record books and their rings and trophies returned to their governing federation. Oh, that’s right, it doesn’t happen in other sports, does it? Will we demand that Roger Clemens return his Cy Young Awards and any remuneration that went with them? How about Mark McGuire; is his name to be erased from record books, and is the money from his endorsements required to be repaid? Please, don’t understand me but, what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Cycling, track and field, and to some extent, baseball appear to be the targets for USADA. Football and basketball players get slaps on the wrist, but there aren’t too many who have been so blatant as to get kicked out of the sport. What does the USTA have to say about its tennis players, or USA Swimming have to say about its athletes?

Let’s get real here, folks. Doping and the use of performance enhancing drugs is a fact of life. It’s not a good fact of life, but it’s out there. I will give Lance Armstrong credit for taking a minor sport in the United States and turning it into a “shot-in-the-arm” industry. Remember the old three-speed bikes? Well, I didn’t have one of those. My two-wheeler was one of those balloon tire jobbies, and we used to ride the thirteen miles from my town to the beach in Cohasset, MA, the rich kids with the three-speeds arriving long before those of us on our horse and buggy bikes. If, on my bike, the chain broke when you were going up a steep hill, you wound up singing soprano for a couple of weeks…and there was no way to repair that broken chain. Bicycles on the road today may have anywhere from 20-22 gears!

Helmets, who the hell ever heard of helmets; today, you cannot ride with a group unless you’re wearing the proper helmet. Thank you, Mr. Armstrong for leading the way.  Parents appear to be more conscious of helmet use for their children. I just wonder what makes them believe that they are infallible for I see too many parents riding helmetless while their children are wearing headgear that should certainly protect them in a fall. In addition to all of their other infallibilities, many teenagers seem to take umbrage when it comes to wearing a helmet. I’m willing to bet that these are the same idiots who love to speed with their licensed buddies and don’t feel the need for seat belts. Bicycle clothing and shoes are a huge industry today in the US. Armstrong was certainly a contributing factor in the growth of that industry.

So while it’s fine to condemn Lance Armstrong for his bad behavior, we should also look at the positives of what he has contributed to the sport. I wear a ‘livestrong’ bracelet; how about you? For years, I volunteered for a bike-a-thon event that has raised millions for cancer research and to fight cancer in children. Bicycle events are now raising money for all kinds of charities. Would that have happened if not for Lance Armstrong? Of course it would, but I don’t believe its popularity today would be as great if America didn’t have its now-flawed hero.

So I, for one, am going to say, “Sorry, Lance; it’s too bad that people will look and see only the bad side. It’s too bad that they will forget your fight against testicular cancer. It’s unfortunate that they can’t understand how your participation in the sport raised cycling to an entirely new level in this country; it’s tragic that people won’t recognize you for what you’ve done to raise money for cancer research and support. So, Lance, while I’m disappointed in you for what they say you did, I just wish to hell I could ride with you…just once, but I’m just too damned old, and it won’t be until I die that they will be able to pry my yellow bracelet from my cold, dead wrist.”

Read Full Post »

I love watching football on television. By the time the end of August rolls around, I begin to get a bit quirky, thinking about all of the upcoming collegiate and professional football that will begin the first week of September and last into February. It’s thrilling to watch the runs, the tackles, the sweet feel of a long-completed pass for a touchdown or an equally long TD (that’s football talk) run as some Heisman candidate tiptoes his way down the sidelines for the “big gainer” that puts his team in position to “put six on the scoreboard” for the home team.

I tried playing football once. I didn’t mind all of the conditioning work or putting on all of that gear that made you look like something you could never be. I enjoyed it until our first scrimmage when Charlie Chimes (a real name, so help me), rang my bell with a block that sent me direct from the playing field to the local soda shoppe to enjoy a chocolate frappe. One hit; that’s all it took before I realized that this really was a sport that could be better enjoyed from the sidelines than on the field…safer and a hell of a lot healthier also. I had participated in games of tackle football without all that padding, and I guess we just didn’t hit that hard for fear of being hit harder in return. It wasn’t really even the hit that Charlie put on me; it was more the look in his eyes. You know, the kind that sends the message that says, “You are mine and I will grind you into little pieces and spit on them;” that kind of look; the one that immediately tunes up your brain, which sends its own message…get out of here now before you get yourself killed!

I watched Alabama play today. They have five offensive linemen who can run forty yards in under five seconds; not only that, but each of them weighs over 300 pounds. They don’t block their opponents; they eject them. To say that they enjoy what they do to opponents is akin to saying that the lions enjoyed their trips to the Coliseums to have dinner with the Christians. One can, I suppose, receive some solace in the fact that because these people weigh in at such a horrendous amount, one would never have to sit next to them in a classroom…a) there are no college classroom seats large enough or strong enough to hold them, and b) when did you ever see a Division I college football lineman in a collegiate classroom? That really isn’t fair, but there are far too many D1 players who are on the field Saturday afternoons only that they might reach the next level and someday be able to play on Sunday.

All of these ‘little’ things aside, When you look at the size of the stadiums in which these gladiators compete, you realize where Zeiss, Nikon, Swift, Bushnell, and Canon are making their money. In addition, I’ll bet that the oxygen vendors do a hell of a business in the top tiers. You mean you have to pay just to get a nosebleed…and that’s not even on the field? “Oh, it’s not the same on television,” these die-hard fans will tell you. They’re right. They’re so far away from the field that the sound of a touchdown doesn’t reach them until the next kickoff. As the season moves along, they’re freezing their collective butts off while I’m sitting in front of a warm fireplace chomping on popcorn, maybe having a little drinkie or two, and taking in all of the close-up action from less than ten feet away. With high definition television, I can even make out the tattoos on most of the players. What is it with these tattoos? Assuming that you do graduate from college, and assuming that you aren’t quite good enough for the NFL, how are you going to explain a body that looks like a roadmap to a prospective employer? Is this supposed to inspire confidence at Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Macy’s, or even MacDonald’s?  Uh, I really don’t think so. There really is life after football guys; before you decide that you wish to look like something out of the Metropolitan or the National Gallery, consider the consequences of your actions.

I kid about college football. It’s a great sporting spectacle. In addition to entertaining the students and alumni, it can also be the difference between a new chemistry lab or postponing its building. Big time football and a highly successful program is mana from Heaven for development officers and college presidents. We win on Saturday; our alumni appeals are answered positively until the next Saturday; we lose and don’t bother to make the calls.

Football is wonderful. It’s a great learning experience. If you’re like me, you learn that the first time you get hit by someone about twice your size just how great football can be…for someone else. I place much too high a value on my healthy body for continued participation. Being a spectator really has its advantages…no pain, no pain!

Read Full Post »

The Olympic Creed reads, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”  

Somewhere along the way, Americans seem to have lost sight of the fact that winning a medal isn’t as important as being at the event and taking part. Medals should be secondary; they are not. In today’s society, it would appear that winning at nearly any cost is the most important thing in the games, because if you win – at least in America – you get endorsement deals worth millions and public appearances that will net a few thousand more. You might even become a motivational speaker, and there are still a lot of bucks to be made in that field. Do it now, however, because in four years, you are most likely to be a forgotten champion.

There are a couple of things that bother me about the Olympics. First, the concentration that is placed on what I call the “common sports.” Gymnastics, swimming, basketball, and even volleyball – particularly beach volleyball – can you say, “skimpy outfits” – to the detriment of sports that, while less glamorous, are just as highly competitive and require equal or greater skill than those I’ve mentioned. Another bothersome facet is this emphasis we place on beating those whom we consider our closest competitors. At one time, it was Russia – then the U.S.S.R. – and now it’s the Chinese. It’s a figurative war game with wonderful western democracy attempting to triumph over the evils of despotic communism.  It’s a joke.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’ll watch swimming and basketball until the cows come home. Our children grew up in the pool. They won medals and championships, set collegiate records and swam because of their love for the sport.  They never qualified as Olympians, in part perhaps because they weren’t that talented; in part because they didn’t wish to devote their lives to sport, and; perhaps, in part, because we couldn’t afford to pay the huge amount of money and commitment required for training.

As an American, I’m somewhat in awe of what our athletes were able to accomplish – 104 medals is no small feat. But then, we have the best training facilities available. Yes, a few of the other big medal winners have similar facilities, but not as many and not controlled by “the state.”  I’m just not certain that either we or the athletes understand how easy it is for an American to strive to reach his or her Olympic dream…not of winning a medal, but of just being able to participate. For athletes from other countries, things can be so different. “This means a lot for me and my country,” said sprinter Tahmina Kohistani of Afghanistan. “There were a lot of people who were trying to stop me from training, but I am here. I know having a medal at the Olympics is very difficult, but I am here to open a new way for the women of Afghanistan because in my society there is no sport for females.” According to the Jakarta Globe,  “we have raised Afghanistan’s flag in London. This is a big achievement, my dear fellow countrymen,” Olympic committee chairman Aghbar said. Bronze is like gold for us.” The team rode from airport to the Ghazi Stadium along with the officials and fans in cars and horses. Supporters carried Afghanistan’s flag and photos of Nikpa and other athletes. Ghazi Stadium was notorious during the Taliban regime, between 1996 and 2001, for being a stage for public executions. All forms of sports were banned during that time.” There will be no endorsements for Nikpai who won that bronze medal in his weight class in Taekwondo; however, the honor he brought to his country is impossible to underestimate. It’s part of the reason I gained new respect for Miami Heat’ Lebron James, who said, “We didn’t win the gold for us, we won it for these three letters (USA) on our shirts. “

Win or lose, it doesn’t matter. If you qualified to participate and represent your country at the Olympics, you brought great pride to your nation. Whether you were Mavzuna Chorieva from Tajikistan with a bronze, or Missy Franklin from the USA, a four-time gold medalist, it makes no difference. You are your nation’s best and congratulations are in order to you and your fellow participants.

Read Full Post »

There is still a certain primal hormone, gene, DNA strand, or whatever you wish to call it in mankind – that’s the generic “mankind” for any woman who might have been insulted – that causes an animalistic, uncouth, violent reaction  whenever ‘their’ particular athletic team wins a championship. This behavior is extremely difficult for the average person to comprehend. It appears that this rude, crude, vicious, and ignorant activism has now spilled over into what happens when the outcome of a championship is still in doubt.

Following the victory of the University of Kentucky basketball team in the semi-finals of the NCAA tournament this year, crowds went wild, burning couches, overturning cars, and creating a general havoc in and around the Lexington campus. This is tragic for any number of reasons, the least of which is the idiocy displayed by students in their blatant disregard for the property of others.

One of the genuine tragedies to come from Kentucky’s win is that it is merely a preview of what will happen should the team win the national championship by defeating Kansas. What happens then? Will the City of Lexington be burned to the ground by a bunch of drunken Neanderthals? Will the police just stand around and watch with the excuse that, “They’re just happy.” What bullshit.

The University of Kentucky basketball program is a travesty in terms of collegiate athletics. The NCAA insists that it is cracking down and that athletes must also be students; must maintain certain grade point averages, and; must conduct themselves in accordance with the rules and regulations of both the NCAA and the institution. If that is the case, why is it that over the past six years, the graduation rate for the University of Kentucky basketball team’s black players – and the vast majority of them are black – has been 18, 17, 9, 17, 17, zero. John Calipari, Kentucky’s basketball coach, said in an interview recently, “I wish there was a rule that the kids have to stay in school for two years. That way, I’d have this same team back next year.” That is all Calipari cares about…how long can he keep his kids on his team? Notice that I did not say, “How long he can keep his kids in school?” That didn’t matter to ‘Coach Cal’ when he was at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst or at any other school where he has coached.

There is a stench which emanates from a number of Division I athletic offices around the collegiate country. The stench combines two things: (1) recruiting the very best athletes in spite of rather than because of their intelligence or lack thereof, and (2) a desire on the part of the administration to win because winning equates to how well the institution’s fund-raising efforts will succeed. It’s the smell of slavery combined with the smell of money, and the stench is truly obnoxious. Yes, these kids are slaves. They are brought in not to be scholar-athletes; they are at the University of Kentucky and hundreds of other colleges and universities to be ‘money-warrior-athletes;’ to win and make the coach look good; to win and make the alumni happy; to win in order that a new library can be built or a new science wing can be constructed; to win in order to show other kids – also largely minorities – that  all you need to do is be one hell of a player in order to get in. Put in your year; showcase your talents; and it’s off to the NBA.

I have to lay a great deal of the blame for this disgusting behavior at the door of the National Collegiate Athletics Administration. The NCAA has talked a wonderful game for years, and talk is just about all they have done. As long as the NCAA is reaping the rewards – and they do reap mucho rewards – from their revenue- producing athletic programs, they will stall the progress of any real legislation that will ensure that the athletes receive an adequate education. “One and done” is not an acceptable rule for collegiate athletes. The argument that a kid could get hurt and not be able to pursue a professional career is nonsensical. Sure, it could happen. Frankly, I think it’s very likely it will happen if some of these coaches drive the kids into the ground with practice after practice after practice. The NCAA should take the decision for “one and done” out of the hands of the athletes or the parents and insist on a minimum four-year contract with any division one athlete who is admitted to a college or university. In addition, the NCAA and the institution should take out insurance on the athlete in the event of career-ending injury. Oh-ho, wouldn’t that make the colleges think twice before accepting “stars.”

Perhaps he’s right, but I’m appalled that Glenn ‘Doc’ Rivers, coach of the Boston Celtics, is allowing his son to leave Duke after one year. “It’s his decision,” says Rivers. I say that the old man is abrogating his responsibilities as a father. Better than anyone, Rivers should know just how quickly a career can be ended at the professional level. Without an education, what can his son look forward to doing if, God forbid, such an injury should occur to him in his first year? Sure, dad might be able to take him on as an assistant but how long can that last?

It’s not just the fans who are out of control when their team wins. It just adds more fuel to the fire to bring in the best of the best of the best athletes in order that the institution can continue to get its name into the national media, the alumni to keep giving the dollars, the NCAA to keep raking in its share of the profits, and the athletes themselves to get a royal screwing!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »