Saturday, September 23, 2017

America the deaf

And now yet another guy who doesn't understand America, and this guy is not just some guy on the street who thinks all those black folks should quit whining about being shot by the cops in situations where they shouldn't be getting shot by the cops.

Come on down, Mr. President!

Who, down in Alabama, took timeout from trading playground taunts with his North Korean doppelganger to say these players need to be punished for exercising their American right to protest. Yes, it sure was a shame NFL owners didn't just run those players off the field when they "disrespected" the American flag by, you know, kneeling in prayer during the national anthem.

Yes, sir. Kneeling in prayer. Now there's some disrespect for ya, by golly.

The President went on to say the protests were ruining the game, and encouraged fans outraged by Americans exercising their American right to peacefully protest to walk out of the stadiums. And any player who dared to exercise his American right to peacefully protest should be fired.

You'd like to think an American president would understand America better than this. You'd also like to think this particular American president would think before he speaks, but by now we all know that's not going to happen. And so we end up with a situation where a man who hid behind his rich daddy rather than fight for his country has the gall to accuse others of disrespecting America.

You want to see disrespect, Mr. President? Look in the mirror.

And while you're at it, no, the protests are not ruining the game. Lousy play -- particularly, ahem, lousy quarterbacking -- is much more responsible for that. But then we should be used to politicians saying silly stuff when it comes sports. None of them (or hardly any of them) know spit about it.

No, politicians play to their base, and we all know who this president's base is. It's why, rather than perhaps listening to what the players are saying, he'd rather just bash them for "disrespect." Which is too bad, because what the players are saying bears listening to. And it's very much along the lines of what this president wore on that red hat of his as he stumped around the country during the campaign.

The players, see, want to Make America Great Again, too. They want to make it a country that addresses inequality and tries to do something about it, rather than attack those who point it out. They want the police to be better, and they want better community relations with law enforcement. They want the issue of mass incarceration of people of color addressed. They want someone in the White House to listen to what are, frankly, some legitimate and articulately expressed concerns.

“First of all, I want to make sure that people understand I love the military," Seattle Seahawk Michael Bennett told The Guardian last month. "My father was in the military. I love hot dogs like any other American. I love football like any other American. But I don’t love segregation. I don’t love riots. I don’t love oppression. I don’t love gender slander. And I just want to see people have equality that they deserve.”

Unfortunately, they've got the wrong president for that. Unfortunately, they have a president who, at one point in his campaign, egged on goons at one of his rallies when they roughed up a black woman protestor. And then rhapsodized about the good old days when the police could crack their skulls with impunity.

In other words, they've got Bull Connor as their president.

No wonder they're kneeling in prayer.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Brain games

Show of hands, here on the morning after the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers gave America another dose of its favorite bread-and-circus (and were engaged, apparently, in an Ugly-Ass Uniform fight to the death).

Who is surprised that another dead former NFL player was found to have advanced CTE, the degenerative  brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head?

Who is shocked, shocked that the player in question was Aaron Hernandez?

The former New England Patriots tight end who was serving a life stretch for murder hung himself in his cell a few months back, and how much CTE contributed to all of it now becomes a matter of conjecture. According to Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the CTE Center at Boston University, Hernandez had stage 3 (out of 4) CTE, an astounding diagnosis given he was only his mid-20s. CTE can cause violent mood swings, depression and other cognitive disorders.

And so you also will not be shocked, shocked to learn that Hernandez' attorney is filing suit against the NFL and the Patriots for hiding the true dangers of the sport, leading to Hernandez' acquiring of CTE.

At first blush the suit wouldn't seem to have legs. Ten, even five years ago, you could reasonably argue the league and its member teams were indeed culpable in not informing its players of the long-term effects of repeated head trauma. The league was in deep denial then -- to the extent it even tried to discredit the findings of its own report on the issue. But the concussion protocols and rule changes on targeting and what-not put in place in the last five years or so would seem to make it hard to prove that the NFL was doing nothing to protect players.

And if the suit goes on to intimate that the league's negligence somehow led to the crimes that put Hernandez behind bars, it will be on even shakier ground. There is abundant evidence, anecdotal and otherwise, that Hernandez was displaying a particular sociopathy long before he got to the NFL. That the symptoms of CTE might have exacerbated that might well be true, but they didn't cause it.

In truth, Hernandez' diagnosis is yet another cautionary tale that if you decide you love football and want to follow it to the end, the end may be exactly what you wind up with. And it is one more brick in the wall that separates reality from the CTE truthers -- who continue to insist there's no definitive science behind CTE and that it is, in fact, an Evil Plot To Bring Down A Wholesome American Sport.

Which is, of course, absurd, and the very sort of hysteria the truthers accuse doctors such as McKee of displaying. Contrary to the Chicken Littles who claim the eggheads are all trying to kill football, there is not a shred of evidence that football is going away anytime soon. If participation in youth football is declining generally, it also got a mild bump in the last year documented (2015). And the teaching of new techniques and protocols designed to protect young noggins reaches down into the youth leagues now.

Football, in other words, will adjust and survive. It might not be the game you grew up with, but the game you grew up with wasn't the game your father and grandfather grew up with, either. If there's one constant about football, it's that there's never been any constants about it.

Except, of course, that it's a violent game that can hurt you badly, and from which there are serious consequences that could follow you all the rest of your life. And so proceed accordingly.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Sign language

From the chair in my den, I can see the only two autographs I've ever gotten.

They're over there on a bookshelf, at opposite ends, flanking a photo of Wildcat baseball kids outside Tiger Stadium in 1966, back when Wildcat used to regularly take train trips to Detroit and Chicago. One is a signed publicity still of Ned Garver, the Ney, Ohio, boy who went on to pitching glory with the old St. Louis Browns. The other is a framed note, on Holiday Inn stationary, from legendary Tigers announcer (and quintessential southern gentleman) Ernie Harwell, thanking me for a column I'd written about him.

I never asked for either of those autographs. If you're a sportswriter, as I was for almost 40 years, asking for autographs is the third rail of unprofessional behavior. You never -- never -- do that. It'll get your credential pulled, for starters.

Which brings us (in a meandering, "Ooh, look! Squirrel!" sort of way) to Colorado Rockies reliever Pat Neshek.

Who, at the All-Star Game in July, asked fellow NL All-Star Zack Greinke of the Diamondbacks to sign some cards for him. He was apparently trying to complete a set of league pitching leaders, and had already gotten autographs from Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.

Neshek says Greinke agreed to do so. Greinke, when Neshek approached him on Tuesday, denied he ever said anything of the kind, and refused to sign the cards. Said (according to Neshek) he would never sign for him, and "wouldn't even sign for your kid if he asked."

After which Neshek blasted Greinke on social media, calling him, among other things an "ahole" and a "turd."

Couple questions about this.

One, Neshek is apparently an avid baseball memorabilia collector. Which is fine. But those guys can be, shall we say, annoying. Is that what's behind Greinke's seemingly over-the-top reaction?

Two, even if that were the case, why would Greinke be such a, well, turd about it? Especially to a fellow player?

Look. I get it. The autographs-for-profit market has poisoned the well for what used to be the ultimate act of goodwill for a professional athlete. Nothing was better for an athlete's image, or that of his sport, than taking time to sign autographs for kids. A lot still do -- a lot, in fact, go out of their way to sign and sign and sign -- and nothing reflects better on them with the public.

The problem, of course, is that the kid with his pen and scrap of paper is more and more getting shoved aside by the grownup with the binder of cards in plastic sleeves he's planning on turning into cash money.

I don't know if Neshek's one of those guys (he seems only to collect, not sell). What I do know is those guys ruin a good thing for everyone, because they turn even players who once gladly signed jaded and sour.

So, yeah, maybe that's what Greinke's deal is.

Or, maybe, you know, he really is just a turd.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Much ado about little

Oh, the things media in Sportsball World gets all wrought up about ...

Been listening for a whole day now to the kerfuffle over Giants' coach Ben McAdoo's postgame criticism of Eli Manning. And, as usual, it's set off a spasm of eye-rolling.

(I need to watch the eye-rolling, by the way. As my mom and yours used to say, "Be careful or your face will freeze that way.")

Anyway ... all the usual stuff has been trotted out, from dismay that McAdoo "threw his quarterback under the bus" (where is this mythical bus, anyway, and why are people always being thrown under it?) to warnings that criticizing players in public, especially your quarterback, is how you lose your locker room.

Yeah, well. I suppose.

But I listened to what McAdoo said, and, I'm sorry, I can't get all that worked up about it. He was asked a specific question about a specific play. He gave a refreshingly honest answer -- something media folk always say they want right before ripping to shreds the guy who gives them one. What's the problem here?

Especially when he was absolutely right.

Listen, if you're the quarterback of an NFL team, and you can't get a snap off, that is "sloppy quarterback play," as McAdoo called it.  And that goes double when the quarterback in question has two rings and has been in the league more than 10 years.

Yet he can't get a crucial snap off before the play clock runs out, resulting in a delay of game penalty?

Sorry, but that's inexcusable for someone with Eli's resume. And, yes, he's playing behind an offensive line that can't block a mild breeze, and therefore he has zero chance on most snaps. But what's that got to do with what happens before the snap?

I'll say it: Nothing

As in, "Nothing to see here. Move along."    

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Something to build on

No doubt you missed this, what with the NFL casting its usual immense shadow over your Sunday afternoon. But IndyCar had a very good day out on the West Coast on that same Sunday afternoon.

What happened was, Josef Newgarden finished second in the season finale at Sonoma.

What that did was wrap up the 2017 IndyCar title for the 26-year-old from Tennessee.

What that also did was give IndyCar an immensely marketable champion to sell -- an American champion -- if IndyCar can somehow manage to do it.

This is going to sound xenophobic, but the best thing that could have happened to the sport was for Josef Newgarden to win the title. And, yes, part of that is because he is an American, only the third in 15 years to win the championship.

This is not to disparage Tony Kanaan or Helio Castroneves or any of the other IndyCar stars who are not American, and who have in fact done the sport great honor. Castroneves, a Brazilian, and James Hinchcliffe, the outrageously personable Canadian, even went on "Dancing With The Stars," where they represented IndyCar to the larger world in the best possible light.

But that was not the lasting opportunity Newgarden presents.

It's been a recurrent theme since the sport tore itself apart 20 years ago that IndyCar's biggest obstacle to regaining its previous footing was that it didn't have an ascendant American star. Once the Andrettis and Unsers and Foyts left the stage, it was a sport dominated by foreigners. That it's always had a significant foreign presence -- and that the Emerson Fittipaldis and Arie Luyendyks contributed much to its popularity -- didn't seem to occur to those who saw the foreign dominance as a bad thing.

And the popularity itself, at least since before the split, was always something of an illusion, too. Motorsports has always been a niche property. If it seems even more so now, it's because advances in entertainment technology, and entertainment options, have provided a lot more niches to consume.

That said, the sport has lacked a homegrown presence it could sell for awhile now. It tried to sell Danica Patrick, but it's hard to sell someone who never wins as the face of your sport (and the not-so-thinly-veiled sexism in the attempt did neither her nor the sport any favors, either.) Aside from that ... well, Marco Andretti has the name but not the effervescent personality, and Graham Rahal has both the name and the effervescent personality but hasn't quite broken through yet.

Now, however, comes Newgarden, who has the looks, the personality, the ride (Penske) and the talent. And, of course, the title.

It's easy to see IndyCar pushing him hard now as the face of its sport. It's easy to see him on "Dancing With The Stars."   It's easy to see him all over your TV in various national ad campaigns.

America doesn't really know him yet. But if IndyCar's smart, it will give America every chance to get to know him.

Whether it can pull that off, of course, remains problematical.

This is, after all, IndyCar.  The track record. so to speak, ain't good. 

A few brief thoughts on NFL Week 2

And now this week's rendering of The NFL In So Many Words, the numbingly recurrent Blob feature of which Van Gogh has said, "Hey, Rembrandt, get a load of this. He's calling it a rendering now," and Rembrandt has replied "Yeah, I got his rendering right here":

1. Hey, look, it's the Colts!

2. And they're gonna wi--

3. Oh.

4. It's Tuesday morning and the Giants still can't find the end zone.

5. OK, so they did, but only by accident, and only because the Lions said, "Fine. You can score. Now quit whining."

6. Hey, look! It's the Cowboys!

7.  All crated up and ready for the trip home.

8. Wait, open it back up. We missed a piece of Ezekiel Elliott.

9. Meanwhile, in Chicago, Mike Glennon!

10. Sorry, Bears fans. That was cruel.  

Monday, September 18, 2017

When wrestlin' was rasslin'

Comes now the sad news that Bobby "The Brain" Heenan has died, and also "Pretty Boy" Bobby Heenan.   You have to be a uniquely singular presence to have not one but two nicknames, even in professional wrestling. But that was Pretty Boy The Brain.

He was another of those giants who cast large and indelible shadows over the Golden Age of pro wrestling, when men were men, wrestlin' was rasslin' and villains like Black Jack Lanza (whom Pretty Boy The Brain managed) and Baron von Raschke always had something illegal tucked in the waistband of their trunks.

Usually it was a set of brass knuckles, and Black Jack or the Baron would pull them out at an opportune time and commence slugging Dick the Bruiser with them. That would go on for awhile as a trickle of blood ran down between the Bruiser's eyes, and then Bruiser would blink once, blink twice and commence whaling on Black Jack/the Baron.

This was because Bruiser, as we all know, had legendary recuperative powers. And it was also because Black Jack/the Baron were cads who deserved to get whaled on by him.

Or, you know, by Wilbur Snyder. Or Pepper Gomez. Or Yukon Moose Cholak or Mitsu Arakawa or or any of the other stars of that glittering era.

It was the era before steroids, and before the cartoon characters those steroids produced. Most of the wrestlers of Bruiser's era looked like regular guys, albeit really big regular guys. If they were sculpted by anything, it was Budweiser. Or so it appeared.

Anyway ... here's to Pretty Boy The Brain Bobby Heenan, and an era long gone. May he and Bruiser hoist a few together off in the Great Beyond, just to show there's no hard feelings.

Although Heenan might try to slip Bruiser a mickey. Just, you know, for old time's sake.