Saturday, July 22, 2017

Ws cure everything

How everything works in corporate college athletics was on full display the other day, when Ole Miss football Hugh Freeze abruptly stepped down six weeks before the start of the season. His crime: He didn't win enough, especially in the SEC.

OK, OK. So that's not officially why Ole Miss offloaded him.

It offloaded him because he was apparently making calls to an escort service on a company phone, a violation of personal morality apparently too much to ignore for even officials at a football-crazy school in the football-crazy South. Freeze couldn't survive that, even if he'd survived so far the NCAA sniffing around his increasingly sleazy program, leveling 21 charges of academic, booster and recruiting shenanigans.

Mainly he survived that because Ole Miss was winning. Well, sort of.

What Ole Miss wasn't doing under Freeze was winning enough in the SEC, where he was 19-21. He hadn't won a conference title. And he surely hadn't won a national title.

Which brings us to how things work.

Because while Hugh Freeze was forced to step down for calling an escort service, up in Kentucky, Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino still has a job despite presiding over a program that was running a brothel out of its basketball facility. Pitino, of course, claimed he didn't know nothin' 'bout no brothel. And he got away with that nonsense because ...

Well. Because he did win a national title, in 2013.

The fact Louisville's been stripped of that title now doesn't really matter, because Louisville fans and alums don't give a damn what the NCAA says. Their Cardinals still won. And besides, this is Kentucky and this is basketball.

So Pitino lives on because he delivered a title, bogus or not.

And Hugh Freeze, because this is Mississippi and this is football, is out of a job because he didn't deliver a title, and was 19-21 in the SEC besides.

Winning absolves everything. Not winning absolves nothing.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Cages of circumstance

O.J. Simpson is in the news again, which is another way of saying "Let's torture the Goldman and Brown families some more, just because," and also another way of saying America has an unhealthy addiction to lowlifes.

(And, yes, simply by writing this, the Blob realizes it's playing into that. Mark me down ten points for hypocrisy. Or something).

At any rate, he won parole yesterday, which made white America grind its teeth again, because O.J. long ago became a fetish for those who only get upset with guys skating when it's not their guy skating. Hence all the outrage when a rich, connected black man walked on a double murder 23 years ago, and a shrug of the shoulders for all the times rich, connected white men have walked on crimes just as heinous.

We choose our side and we stay on our side, here in America. Until we realize we're all one side, and an injustice to one of us is an injustice to all of us, we'll never be the nation we ought to be.

Sermon over.

As to the rest, his parole yesterday after nine years in the slam came as no surprise to anyone who could look past the fact it was O.J. and realize his original sentence -- 33 years -- was piling on. And, yes, it happened because the judge who handed down the sentence couldn't look past the fact it was O.J., either. So she sentenced him as much for what happened 23 years ago as for the crime he actually committed.

Which was wrong. And which was why O.J. got exactly what he deserved yesterday.

Here's the thing, though: He's also getting exactly what he deserved for what happened 23 years ago.

Yes, he skated on the murders of Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown, and he did it because, like so many white folk before him, he had money and he used it to hire all the best attorneys. And they did the job they got paid to do.

But there are prisons, and there are prisons. No, O.J. may never have done brick-and-mortar jail time for Ron and Nicole, but that doesn't mean he hasn't been doing jail time. The courts might have freed him, but society did not. And so he has spent the last 23 years as the most radioactive pariah in America, as confined in many ways as he would be if he were actually behind bars.

What happened that June night will never leave him. It is his cage, and he will live inside it until he dies.

That may be scant comfort for the Goldmans and Browns, who had to turn on the news yesterday and see again the man they believe, and much of America believes, butchered their children. But it is justice of a sort.

Rough and imperfect justice, true. But justice.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The heat is on

The memory is blurry now, and not because all memories tend to blur with time. This one's blurry because sweat keeps running into my eyes, and I keep swiping at them with the back of one soggy hand, and, damn, this sun and that humidity and all this concrete is baking us like a cookie in a convection oven.

Some late afternoon at the Brickyard 400, 20 years ago, maybe. Some race day, waiting back here by the haulers while sweating crew members load up the cars and we stand in a melting little huddle waiting for the occasional driver to wander through.

Thus has it ever been on Brickyard day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, because it's high summer and it's always 90 degrees with 70 percent humidity that weekend, and the Speedway gets hot like few places get hot, anyway, but especially in July and August. Heck, even an old pro like Bill Elliott was heard to bitch about the heat one particularly oppressive afternoon. And Bill Elliott's from Georgia.

So I completely get why Speedway president Doug Boles has decided the Brickyard 400, which runs again this weekend, will move to September next year.

Where his own vision gets blurry is when he says they're doing this because the heat is what's keeping all the fans away.

As someone who covered 20 Brickyards, and who remembers what every one of those race weekends was like, I respectfully call bullpucky on that.

Look, it's always been hot at the Speedway on Brickyard weekend. Always. It isn't any hotter now than it was 20 years ago, because I remember how hot it was 20 years ago. I also remember seeing north of 200,000 fans packed into the joint despite all that heat.

So it's obviously not the heat that's keeping anyone away.

But if you're the president of the Speedway, you have to blame the fall of one of you signature events on something, so you might as well pick something you can fix. It beats having to admit that what's wrong with the Brickyard is something you can't fix, because that would mean admitting what's wrong with the Brickyard is out of your control.

And it is, mostly. Sadly.

It is, because what's wrong with the Brickyard is a microcosm of what's wrong with NASCAR, which is mostly a perception issue. The sport simply doesn't draw the way it used to, at Indy and everywhere else. That it's still the most successful motorsports enterprise ever to run on the American continent is a fact that eludes its leadership, because its leadership is still measuring it against the ridiculously unsustainable, success of the late '90s and early 2000s.

And, yes, the Blob has said all this before, numerous times. It's also said, numerous times, that the bloom came off the Brickyard rose after the Tiregate debacle of 2008, and more generally after spectators discovered that NASCAR at the Speedway simply isn't a very good show.

Thus the crowds have dwindled from 200,000 to something around 50,000 or 60,000. Which, mind you, is the kind of crowd that would have set NASCAR to popping champagne corks back in the days when it was still a quaint regional phenomenon and not the vast corporate enterprise it blew up into. But now all those empty seats are just an embarrassing visual, and the Brickyard is just another NASCAR weekend instead of the crown jewel it once was.

The heat didn't do that. The fact it's a boring-ass race did.

I'm not sure how Doug Boles can remedy this, other than to get the event off the oval and run it on the infield road course (a suggestion the Blob has been making for years). Absent that, what are the Speedway's options?

Move it to September. That's the only other option.

September, when presumably it will not be as hot.

September ... when it will be more invisible than ever in the gargantuan Sunday shadow of the NFL.

Sigh.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

You're it

So you think you've seen everything, including Michael Vick teleporting in from the '60s to tell Colin Kaepernick to cut his hair. NFL training camps are still a week or so off, baseball doesn't matter for another two-plus months, and Lonzo Ball does not play another basketball game until October.

What to do, what to do.

Well ... how about this?

Yes, boys and girls, it's professional tag, which is actually a thing, and no doubt will soon become an Olympic sport. I mean, they're already adding driveway basketball, aka 3-on-3 basketball. Can tag be far behind?

This is, of course, not your normal game of tag, and not your normal athletes playing it. It is, in fact, pretty awesome to watch, in a way you never thought tag would be awesome to watch.  And it makes you wonder what would happen if it landed Gatorade or Nike as a sponsor, and ESPN got its mitts on it, and it blew up into this huge deal that had a season that lasted as long as the Hundred Years War.

Suddenly there would be a Tag Bowl, and Tag Bowl parties, and tag minicamps. There would trade deadlines and a Tag Summer League and an official Tag Draft, in which Mel Kiper Jr. would tell us who the best duckers and dodgers were coming out of college, and why the Jets blew it again. There would be preseason tag and regular season tag and tag wildcard games.

And of course, at some point, Tom Brady would cheat by hiding behind the big tree in the backyard, then jumping out to tag Andrew Luck. Who would then go complain to Mom that Tom was cheating again, and Mom would tell Tom to knock it off or she'd make him come inside, and then Tom would start chasing Andrew around the yard for tattling on him.

Or, you know, something like that.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

LaVar Ball is a genius

Got your attention, didn't I?

But, see, it really is working out just the way LaVar, the self-promoting paterfamilias of the ballin' Ball brothers, envisioned it. His kid was so much the talk of the NBA Summer League it was as if no one else was playing but the No. 2 (Not even No.1!) pick in the draft. That the NBA Summer League became such a thing this summer, in fact, is largely because of Lonzo Ball's drawing power.

And now this. To which LaVar would say, "Well, of course. Like I didn't tell you this would happen?"

(And, yes, before you start, I know it's the Summer League. I know it's essentially just rookies and down-roster bench-splinter collectors playing noon ball at the Y. So we likely still don't know just how good Lonzo Ball really is, or will be -- although he's obviously a lot better than the LaVar haters hoped he would be).

But anyway ... LaVar wins again. He may be an annoying braggart, but things sure turn out the way he predicts they will a lot.

I know. I'm grinding my teeth, too.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Roger the (Time) Dodger

The cynic in me will not stay quiet, much as I try to muzzle him. He looks at Roger Federer winning Wimbledon again, and he says maybe this is not about him, so much. Maybe it's about who he's playing.

"I mean, what's it say about the quality of men's tennis when a 35-year-old can skate through Wimbledon without losing a set?" the cynic sneers.

After which I finally corral him, put a burlap sack over his head and stuff him in the back of the closet with the rest of the accumulated irrelevancies.

Because, listen, when you start talking about the quality of the competition, remember that Rafe Nadal is still around, and Novak Djokovic is still around, and Andy Murray is still around. Except none of them were around Sunday.

Federer was. Federer abides.

 Likely it's different if he runs into Nadal or Joker or Murray somewhere along the line. Likely he loses a set or two. But it's not Federer's fault they weren't there to face him. And what does that say about the quality of the competition?

And so the gate swings both ways here. Behind it is the greatest tennis player of all time, breezing through Wimby unmarked at 35. Behind it is a man whose career looked finished a year ago, and now here he is, with two of the first three Grand Slams of 2017 in his pocket, and a record eight Wimbledon titles, and a record 19 Grand Slam titles. Behind it is a man as crafty in his preparation as he is on the court, strategically sitting out chunks of time last year and earlier this spring in order to have fresh legs and a fresh will for the big tournaments.

Two steps ahead. As ever.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tour de Dirtbag

Well, that was ... illuminating.

"That" being the Floyd Mayweather-Conor McGregor Conning The Rubes Tour, a four-part series in which the principles basically functioned as carnival barkers trying to whip up interest in their alleged "fight." The goal, of course, is to take your money and then, on fight night, reveal that you picked the wrong shell.

Pea's under the other one, old-timer. Better luck next time, sucker.

Here's the problem with the Tour: It was specifically designed to reveal Mayweather and McGregor for being exactly what they are, a woman-beating punk and a racist punk. Mainly because they're not really roles, they played their roles perfectly. And they did so knowing that's exactly what would play with their audience. Witness how loudly they cheered McGregor when he called Mayweather "boy", and for Mayweather when he came out wearing an Irish flag.

They'll gladly plunk down their money now. And that says nothing good about human beings as a species.

Because the question now is, what kind of sporting event is it that uses racism, xenophobia and misogyny to sell itself? And what kind of society is it when so much of the media covering this farce seems to see that as normal, as just the way you play the hype game?

Here's hoping I'm wrong about human beings. Here's hoping there's a lot more people out there than I think there are who, if not already unwilling to be carny-ed out of their money by these two, would  be unwilling simply because they refuse to subsidize what they're selling.

I can't speak for anyone else, but count me among the latter. All I've learned from their "tour" is that they're both mouth-breathing low-life scum. One's a boxer who ought to be in prison for beating up women, and is no credit to his sport. The other's the perfect representative of a shady enterprise that strong-arms reporters who dare write anything negative or break news.

A pox on both of 'em.