Friday, January 19, 2018

The tie that binds. Updated.

This just in from the Detroit News:  The newspaper's investigation has found that at least 14 Michigan State representatives received reports of Larry Nassar's abuse in the two decades prior to his arrest. At least eight women told MSU he was abusing them, and among those notified was MSU President Lou Anna Simon.

As the kids say, (bleep) just got real.

Cold war

And now to Charlotte, N.C., Queen of the Frozen South, and also kings of irony, at least until Our Only Available President fires off his next spasm of Twitter buffoonery.

Charlotte, it seems, canceled a hockey game because of ... winter.

OK, so it didn't cancel it. It only canceled the fans, which is why the AHL's Charlotte Checkers played in an empty arena.

This happened because Charlotte got six inches of snow and ice, a normal winter's day up where most of the Checkers call home. Charlotte all but shutting down because of it must have been highly amusing to them, but, being hockey players -- generally the most polite athletes on earth away from the rink -- none of them openly laughed, or even snickered behind their hands in public. About the most extreme reaction any of them had was that it was definitely a weird experience.

Still, you can just imagine the inner eye-rolling. The South, as we all know, simply doesn't do winter. This is why so many people who've spent their lives doing winter move there. If they wanted to shovel snow and stand in line at the grocery store for bread and milk, they'd have stayed in Holy (Bleep) It's Cold, Minn., or Maybe We'll Tunnel Out In The Spring, N.Y., a suburb of Buffalo.

So, yes, we all get it. Yet it's deliciously amusing. Hockey fans, after all, glory in their toughness. That's why they'll gladly bundle up in parkas and toques to watch the Winter Classic on New Year's Day, when two NHL teams play outdoors as a testament to the heartiness of hockey's roots. Six inches of snow and ice? Shoot, isn't that why you have a Zamboni?

Perhaps the Checkers should have loaned the city of Charlotte theirs. 'Tis a thought.

The tie that binds

Here is a dark narrative for you this day, and let's see if doesn't sound familiar.

It begins with a serial pedophile employed/affiliated with a state university, utilizing university resources while he sexually abuses young people on school grounds. When the victims lodge complaints, they are not taken seriously by the head coach of the program involved, and other school officials.

Eventually, the perpetrator is sentenced to what amounts to a life sentence in prison, and the university officials involved in enabling him wind up in court themselves, while the NCAA imposes  the harshest possible punishment.

Penn State, right? That whole sordid Jerry Sandusky business?

Wrong.

Michigan State. And Larry Nassar.

Who this week literally cannot face his dozens of victims, sitting in a courtroom with his face in his hands as one woman after another comes forward to tell the world what he did to them as children. One of Nassar's young victims wound up committing suicide. The father of another killed himself when he couldn't cope with the guilt of not initially believing his daughter.
  
There will be just shy of a hundred such stories, before it's all over. The damage done to them by Nassar, an alleged doctor who used his position to sexually abuse girls as young as 6, is incalculable.

And some of it he did on the grounds of Michigan State University.

Twenty years ago, Michigan State employed him to treat both university athletes and young athletes in a gymnastics program affiliated with MSU. He operated out of an office in the basement of Jenison Fieldhouse. There -- according to two of his victims in an ESPN Outside The Lines piece -- he abused several young girls.

Among them was Larissa Boyce, 16 at the time. She says when she went to Michigan State gymnastics coach Kathie Klages to complain, Klages said she didn't believe her, that Nassar was someone she "trusted and knew for years."

A second victim, meanwhile, says when she complained about Nassar, she was asked who she had told, and then told not to discuss it further.

"They just kept it quiet, and that is what's so hard -- knowing that if adults were to make the right decision and do the right thing at the right time, that the abuse could have stopped," the second gymnast told OTL.

And who does that sound like, boys and girls?

Thaaat's right. It's Penn State and Sandusky all over again.

What separates one from the other is only the complete spinning out of the narrative; no Michigan State officials have yet been sued and hauled into court, though that is surely coming. And the NCAA hasn't dropped the hammer on the Spartans, nor even picked it up.

It will be interesting to see what happens, if and when the NCAA does pick up the hammer. There is, after all, a school of thought out there that the organization overstepped its authority when it injected itself into a criminal matter. And yet, it has established a precedent.

How can it punish Penn State for Sandusky, and not punish Michigan State for Nassar?

They are, after all, virtually identical scenarios. How can the NCAA's reaction not be identical as well?

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Quiet legend

Dan Gurney died the other day, which means something to a certain generation of racing fan, and probably not as much to those not of that generation.

Almost everyone everywhere knows his contemporaries, after all: A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti and Bobby and Al Unser, and maybe even Jim Clark, in the Blob's biased judgment the greatest Formula One driver of all time. Gurney, however, likely doesn't have the same shine of legend about him for the casual fan who wasn't around back in the day.

Which is a shame. Because he should.

He was, arguably, the most influential American racing figure of the 1960s, a man who not only won in every major discipline but designed and built his own iconic American Eagle line of race cars. The most successful American grand prix driver after Andretti, he was the first driver to win an F1 race for Porsche, and the second driver to win one in his own car. He won in Indy cars. He won in NASCAR. He won, with Foyt, the 1967 24 Hours of Le Mans, driving the legendary Ford GT40.

A week later, he won the Belgian Grand Prix in the Eagle.

Among American drivers, only Andretti and Foyt won as often in as many disciplines. If he is not remembered by some as being on their footing, therefore, it is their failing, not his.

Just ask that certain generation.

Loyalty hits the wall

This just in from the Fluffy Celebrity Folderol wing of the Blob, in which we discuss items of no particular merit except to answer the question, "She's dating him?"

Today's response: Yes, Danica Patrick is dating him. As in, Aaron Rodgers.

The romantic pairing of the NFL's most prolific passer and auto racing's one-time most prolific needle-mover immediately jumps them to the top of Sportsball World's power couple list, and also raises the subject of loyalty. Patrick, after all, grew up in Roscoe, Illinois, as a Chicago Bears fan. Rodgers plays for the Bears' mortal enemy, the Green Bay Packers. What to do, what to do.

Patrick already knows the answer to that.

"I told (Rodgers) a long time ago I'd always root for him as a player," she told the Associated Press. "Now I am probably going to cheer for the whole team."

And then:

"Take out the word 'probably.' Now I'm going to cheer for the whole team."

This will no doubt bring howls of pain from all the Grabowskis in Chicago, along with the usual declarations that "I never liked her anyway" and the tired old "What does she know, she couldn't drive a race car to save her life."

(Although how, in that case, you explain her six top-ten finishes in seven Indianapolis 500 starts is a legitimate question. Also what that has to do with her knowledge of football, and in particular the merits of the Bears vs. the Packers as football organizations.)

In any case, Patrick's rep as a serious football fan just took a major hit. No fan worth the name so easily throws over his or her team for his or her's most hated rival. It is, after all, just as much an affair of the heart as, well, affairs of the heart.

Or not, apparently.

Monday, January 15, 2018

That play

Already, up there where it's cold and purple, they've got a name for it: The Minnesota Miracle. That's what we do when things happen that make you literally grab your head. That's what we do when someone's dangling from the last frayed strands of the rope, and they need Bud Grant or Fran Tarkenton or the Purple People Eaters to materialize and use the Force, or some such mystical thing.

The Minnesota Miracle. The Immaculate Reception II. The "Why Isn't Jack Buck Here To Say 'I Don't Believe What I Just Saw!'" Play.

Because listen, Case Keenum-to-Stefon Diggs was all of that and more. Start with the desperation: The Vikings were down one, there were 10 seconds on the clock, they had no timeouts. And they still needed  a chunk of yards to get into field goal range.

And so Keenum reared back and threw the deep ball to Diggs. It was, of course, a play in which the Vikings had never thrown to the deep man, even in practice. But New Orleans safety Marcus Williams, trying to avoid pass interference as he'd been instructed, hesitated a millisecond too long with the ball in the air. Diggs climbed the ladder and caught it, Williams missed the tackle -- and suddenly Diggs was somehow putting his hand down to stay upright, and then there was nothing but green carpet between him and immortality.

A Miracle, with all the ingredients. And, because this is who we are these days, one more: The inclination to pick at the magic by choosing to emphasize what poor Williams didn't do rather than what Keenum and Diggs did.

Almost immediately after the play, see, social media lit up like a Saturn 5. A lot of it was not about what a great play it was. A lot of it was about what a horrible defensive play it was, and how Williams would probably be cut before he got on the plane back to New Orleans, and how it would go down as one of the worst defensive breakdowns in NFL history.

Not, you know, that it would go down as one of the most memorable finishes in NFL history.

Look. I get it. Negativity is what social media does best, especially in the Age of Our Only Available President. Safe behind our faceless devices, we fire away in a manner we'd never have the nuggets to if we were face-to-face. Human contact tends to breed a certain civility, even in contentious situations. Lack of it breeds the opposite.

And so it was heavy on the negative last night. And light on perspective.

Here's the thing about plays like the Minnesota Miracle, see: They almost always contain two essential elements. One, someone has to make a great play. Two, someone else has to allow it to happen. You rarely get one without the other.

Doug Flutie's fabled Hail Mary to Gerard Phelan, for instance, doesn't happen if the Miami Hurricanes don't allow Phelan to get behind not one but two DBs on the last play of the game.  Ken Stabler's "Sea of Hands" touchdown to Clarence Davis doesn't happen if one of the three Miami Dolphins surrounding him knocks the ball away. And the original Immaculate Reception doesn't happen if that Oakland Raiders defensive back gets to Terry Bradshaw's wobbler a millisecond quicker, avoiding the hit that causes the ball to ricochet to Franco Harris.

In every case, what didn't happen is as important as what did. The difference is, there was no social media then to pick at those plays, to tweet "What a horrible defensive play! How could the Hurricanes let that guy get behind them in that situation?" or "Good lord, the Dolphins had three guys around him! Terrible defense!"

They wouldn't have been wrong about that, of course. But why ruin the magic?

Sunday, January 14, 2018

And yet another stilled voice

So apparently the good Lord isn't happy with the quality of sports broadcasting up there in the great beyond.

Apparently all those games he can get now on Direct-To-The-AfterlifeTV are sorely lacking in able chroniclers, and so he called home another one yesterday. Goodbye, Keith Jackson. No more rumblin'-fumblin'-stumblin' for you. No more praisin' the big uglies up front. You are off to the good place, where you will spend eternity calling Oklahoma-Nebraska '71, or maybe Texas-Arkansas '69, or maybe the last game you called, the epic Rose Bowl of '06, when Vince Young 'n' them knocked regal USC off its high horse.

Like every stellar voice of his generation -- like Dick Enberg, who just went to his reward last month -- Jackson commanded microphones in a lot of booths, but for those of us of a certain generation he will always be tied to one. Like Enberg was the voice of college buckets for a lot of us, Jackson was the voice of college football.

He and Chris Schenkel are always who you hear when you think about Saturday afternoons back in the day, when you only got a couple of college football games a weekend on national TV, and the games therefore seemed like occasions in a way they don't today. As fun as college football is now, it seemed even more fun then, and Jackson's folksy porch-swing cadence fit it almost organically. So tied to college football is it in your mind, in fact, that you almost forget his other notable gig.

Keith Jackson, after all, was Howard Cosell's and Don Meredith's original third partner in the booth on Monday Night Football.

Keith and Howard and Dandy only lasted that inaugural season, and maybe that was for the best. Jackson and college football, the man and the sport, simply fit one another too well. Whether or not he ever actually uttered his signature "Whoa, Nelly!", or whether he uttered it once and not the dozens of times we seem to remember hearing it, remains a matter for conjecture. And in the end, it doesn't really matter one way or the other.

He was, after all, a "Whoa, Nelly!" kind of guy.  It fit his style, and his style fit college football like no one else's has.

And so, have fun calling the classics forever, Keith. And may the big uglies keep you safe.