Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Dancing to create a star

We all know how this worked the last time.

Helio Castroneves danced. He flashed that dazzling smile. He won the hearts of America.

The minds, however ...

Well, whatever traction IndyCar hoped to gain from Castroneves' winning Dancing With The Stars in 2007 dissipated quickly, because, for reasons that have been enumerated ad nauseum in this space, the best auto racing series in America vacates America's mind as soon as the checkers wave at Indianapolis on the last Sunday in May. After that ... crickets.

This is a shame, frankly. More than a shame.

Here's what's even more of one: While IndyCar will be going down the DWTS road again, I don't know if it will raise the series' profile any more, or any more lastingly, than Castroneves did.

For sure, they've got the right guy. James Hinchcliffe will be dancing the nights away this time, and no better public face for IndyCar exists. He's handsome, he's witty, he's disarmingly charming. And no one in IndyCar owns social media better; his Twitter feed, @Hinchtown, is so popular he's become almost as well-known as the Mayor of @Hinchtown as he has one of IndyCar's brightest stars.

If only he could get more eyeballs on the product. If only anyone could.

Even NASCAR, the 800-pound Magilla Gorilla of American motorsports, is down about 400 pounds these days. Which means IndyCar, which has lived in NASCAR's shadow for at least two decades now, makes an even lighter impact on the American sporting landscape. And again, that's a shame, because the quality of the racing in IndyCar right now puts Magilla in the shade.

Four or five of the greatest Indy 500s in history have happened in the last 10 years, for starters. And the final 10 laps in Texas last Saturday night were perhaps the best 10 laps of racing on American soil in recent memory.

Unfortunately, hardly anyone was watching. Many more people will be watching DWTS, presumably.

Here's hoping Hinch can wow 'em the way Helio did. And can make it stick this time.

The product deserves it.  

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

And in other news ...

We'll leave the Colin Kaepernick affair where it is this day, pretty much talked/written about/internet-trolled to death. There are other matters to address, important matters, matters of great portent and consequence, at least if you're the guy operating this Blob.

And, no, I'm not talking about Joey Bosa finally signing with the Chargers.

Good for him. Good for the Chargers. Now was that so hard?

And does it matter much in the grand scheme of things when you've come to the realization that your baseball team is not going to make the playoffs?

That would be the Pittsburgh Pirates, who won 98 games last year but have struggled to escape the great beige land of .500 this year. Last night they lost to the Cubs again (of course), the only consolation being that it took the Lovables 13 innings to do it this time. That drops the Pirates to 67-62, 15 1/2 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central and 1 1/2 behind the Cardinals for the last playoff spot.

That doesn't sound like much, with a month to play. But I have absolutely zero confidence my Bucs will catch the Cardinals. One, they're the Cardinals, which means stuff just seems to naturally (and annoyingly) go right for them. Two, the opposite has been true all summer for the Pirates.

So, there you go. I give up.

Of course, if the Pirates do catch 'em ...

Well. It will all be due to my clever plan of abject surrender. Just so ya know.

Monday, August 29, 2016

That Kaepernick thing, Part Deux

He's catching heat now, and not just the heat generated by all those outraged fans burning Colin Kaepernick jerseys. A former teammate has called him out. Super-patriots -- some of them supporters of a presidential candidate who's trashed America worse than Colin Kaepernick ever will -- have demanded the NFL cut him, or fine him, or suspend him until he stands to Honor America, as the mantra goes.

Here's the thing about that, and it's why you should respect the man even if you don't respect what he's doing: He knew this would happen.

He knew, by refusing to stand for the National Anthem, there would be a firestorm of outrage, because outrage is what we do best in America these days. Outrage is easy, after all. It doesn't require thought, only reaction.

And so Kaepernick has been tried and convicted of hating America, even though, if you listened to what he had to say in a sitdown interview over the weekend, it's clear he doesn't. He hates the injustices he sees that diminish America, not America itself. He wants to do something about those injustices -- even if, admittedly, he's not entirely coherent about what that is or how to go about it. And he wants to do that not because he hates America, but because he wants it to live up to its ideals.

You can say America already does that, but you can only do that if you live in an underground vault somewhere with your eyes and ears tightly closed. You can say there are better ways to protest the injustices Kaepernick sees, but protest is supposed to provoke a reaction -- and, by refusing to stand for the National Anthem, he's certainly done that.

I mean, we're all talking about him now, right? We're all listening to what he has to say, even if we're not really hearing it. Right?

So Kaepernick's achieving what he wanted to achieve, at least partially. And he's not, as he said in the interview, doing it to call attention to himself.

 "This stand wasn't for me," he said. "This stand wasn't because I feel like I'm being put down in any kind of way. This is because I'm seeing things happen to people that don't have a voice, people that don't have a platform to talk and have their voices heard, and affect change."

You can disagree with him about that, and about whether or not standing for the National Anthem really affects change. You can call him na├»ve and stupid and any number of other names, some which only serve to make his point for him. But what you can't call him is a coward or that he's doing this for his own aggrandizement.

After all, he'd been not standing for the anthem for awhile without uttering a public word. He didn't seek attention, but waited until the attention found him. And now it has. And it's what he knew it would be. And yet he's going to continue to do what he's doing, even if fans keep burning his jerseys and calling him names and demanding the NFL make him stand for the anthem like a Good American -- which, frankly, would disrespect what that anthem stands for far worse.

He's going to continue. Even though, right now, he's doing it alone.

That takes guts. That takes commitment. No matter what you think of what he's saying or how he's saying it (or whether you accept the truth of it), the truth of that is undeniable.

For almost four decades as a sportswriter in Indiana, I stood at attention for the National Anthem. I even sung it once at a baseball game. I didn't do this because I thought America was perfect; I did it to honor what it could and should be, not what it too often is. That was my choice.

And this is Colin Kaepernick's.

I can't say I agree with it. I can't say I don't think it will, in the end, be counterproductive. But I respect the hell out of the obvious conviction behind it. I respect the hell out of his willingness to stand the gaff in pursuit of an ideal.

And isn't that what the rest of us honor when the National Anthem hits the air, and we all stand? Isn't it?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Panic room

And now, for your reading pleasure, the Blob presents "Is The Sky Falling Or Not: A Discussion," a topic of great relevance right now to certain people in Indianapolis who paint their faces blue and spend their Sunday afternoons in Lucas Oil Stadium.

Let's present our panel.

Over here, you have the contingent that insists the sky is indeed falling, even though the season has yet to begin and we are five months from its end. This contingent, after three exhibitions in which the Indianapolis Colts did not look like a mighty host, has retreated to its panic room. From there, it's periodically sending out messages that do not exactly sound like Churchill's we-shall-fight-on-the-landing-grounds speech.

"Andrew's going to get killed again!" is one example.

"We have no running game!" is another.

"Our entire defense is hurt, even the guys who aren't that good!" is yet another.

And then, of course, there's this, rising up in the wake of the Colts' exhibition loss to the Eagles last night:

"Jack Mewhort could be done for the season!"

At which point the non-panic room contingent is compelled to point out that Mewhort is one of the offensive linemen who almost got Andrew (as in, "Andrew Luck") killed last year, and so how bad is this news, really?

Look. I get that the Colts O-line, which couldn't block a stiff breeze last year, is still a leading proponent of the Open Door Policy, and even the relentlessly upbeat Chuck Pagano admitted as much last night. He as much as copped to yanking Luck at halftime so, you know, he wouldn't get killed out there.

I also get that everyone on the defensive side really is hurt, including cornerback Darius Butler, who left with an ankle injury last night. I get that there's no running game because the O-line can't open any holes, and even if it did, who would run through them?  The Horsies' best mail-carrier is still Frank Gore, and he's even older than he was last year -- when he was, I don't know, 56 or something.

So, no, things aren't looking up. But, again, it's August. The stores haven't even started putting up their Christmas decorations. The Game Show Host is still weeks away from his final election-day meltdown. The year 2017 still seems impossibly distant.

In other words: It's way, way too early to retire to the panic room.

Such a bizarre place, the Land of Goodell. Every year NFL fans talk about how meaningless and stupid the preseason is, and then they freak out when their teams look bad in the preseason. Well, which is it? Meaningless and stupid, or a grim omen of heartache to come?

The Blob votes the former, which is why it advocates getting rid of the preseason altogether. What's its value besides fattening teams' PUP lists? Are the Dallas Cowboys going to be better prepared now that Tony Romo is out for two months with an injury he incurred in a preseason game? Will the Colts be more ready without Butler and all those other defensive guys they've lost?

Hey, if the colleges can start their season cold, so can the pros, who have frankly been training longer. Preseason is just another way for the NFL to squeeze a few more dimes from the rubes. And the NFL already has enough dimes.

Plus, it really is meaningless and stupid. The last time the Colts went to the Super Bowl, in 2009, they were 1-3 in the preseason and lost to the Lions, who went 2-14 that year. The year they beat the Bears in the Super Bowl, 2006, they went 1-3 in the preseason and lost to two teams (Rams and Bengals) who failed to make the playoffs.

The Colts went 12-4 that year. They were 14-2 in 2009.

In other words: Relax, people. And for God's sake, open the panic room door.

There's a big beautiful world out here. Really.

That Kaepernick thing

So Colin Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the National Anthem as a protest against injustices being done to people of color in this country, and all the Blob has to say about that is what should already be self-evident:

1. It's a free country. That's what we honor when we stand for the National Anthem.

2. As such, Kaepernick is free to stand, not stand, whatever.

3. As also such, people are free to criticize him for that.

4. Undoubtedly, some of the people who are criticizing him for not honoring America are the same people who, in November, will vote for a guy whose entire campaign is built around the notion that  America is a craphole.

Which the Blob finds highly amusing.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Going back to high school

You forget the allure of it, until you go back. Friday nights in America are where football goes to loosen its tie, its home place, somewhere it can kick off the shoes and yank out the shirttail and pop open a cold one while Bachelors of Bachelorettes fulfill the roles for which God made them -- namely, to provide mindless background chatter for those times when even TV is too much work.

Friday nights in America are where football goes to just be football, in other words.

I hadn't covered a high school football game in almost two years, having (mostly) given all that up when I retired as a daily sportswriter after 38 years. The last game I'd covered was in November 2014, a playoff game out in Indiana farm country, where the wind blows unimpeded over the tableland out of eternity itself. It was 21 degrees at game time that night, and the eternal wind felt like a fistful of razor blades. You could stand on the sideline and watch the field turn white as it went from turf to permafrost.

Last night was different.

Last night was warm and humid and there was specklish rain coming out of a flat industrial sky, and when I got out of the car, Friday night in America took me in like long-lost kin. How quickly it all came back: The long (and for me, precarious) climb to the pressbox; the soft breeze coming through the window, smelling of grass and wet earth; the band doing its band-thing.

And the game, of course, was still the game. Running backs surfing through shoals of bad intent. Footballs launched across the darkening sky toward calamity or  glory, spiraling tightly sometimes and sometimes wobbling like a satellite in a decaying orbit. Fans filling the stands and spilling out along the fences, all those former players leaning over with their forearms on their knees or planted on the fence rails, critiquing the young 'uns.

The home team, Carroll High, lost this one, and it was over early. Across the way was Snider High School, a perennial state power and the defending 5A state champs. Implacable as a Roman legion, they went up and down the field like lawnmowers, scored on five of six possessions in the first half, led 34-0 at the break on the way to 41-7.

At the end both teams spilled onto the field before the final seconds ran off, formed their lines, shook hands. The Snider kids whooped and shook their helmets and went tearing off to salute their fans. The head coach, a trim, genial man, talked to the media about his two running backs and his new quarterback and his defense. Up in the stands, small boys leaned hard over the railing, imploring a running back named "Money" to autograph ... well, money.

You could see present and future in that tableau, current Friday gods and future ones. The small boys leaning over the railing hero-worshipping Money would someday be Money, and there would be other small imploring boys. And one day those small boys would be the ones being implored.

On and on and on. The unspooling of football ancestry, going on without end.

It's what sustains and makes Friday night football the purest strain of the game, that unspooling. Beyond it, the game becomes just another 9-to-5 slog, a corporate monolith enclosed and diminished by corporate protocols that somehow become more important than the simple, sublime act of the game itself.

Last night, for instance, the college football season opened in Australia. Cal vs. Hawaii. Corporate college football's version of the relentlessly corporate NFL playing a handful of games in London each year. And so the former becomes just another version of the latter, with only a thin veneer of tradition and other appealing trappings to distinguish itself.

Not like my Friday night, or all the hundreds that preceded it. Not like Friday nights in America at all, home place of our American game.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Fun at the old corporate shill park

And here I thought the Yum! Center was dumb.

Now comes word that U.S. Cellular Field, which used to be Comiskey Park on the south side of Chicago, has doubled down on shameless corporate shilling. It's the Cell no more; now it's Guaranteed Rate Field.

Excuse me, but ... Guaranteed Rate Field??

Yes, that certainly evokes warm summer days taking in the National Pastime in a haven of exquisite greenness. Minoso, Konerko, Sale and Duane From Accounting. Balls, strikes, dingers and Press 9 Or Stay On The Line For The Next Available Sales Representative.

You'd be hard-pressed to come up with a less romantic (or more nakedly corporate) name for so gauzily romantic an American venue as a ballpark. At least the Yum! Center in Louisville, while unrelievedly stupid, is about fried chicken. But Guaranteed Rate Field?

What are fans supposed to call it? The Rate? The Griff? The Duane?

I can't wait until someone names a ballpark Everything Must Go Field. Or Sub-Prime Lending Field. Or Investment Banker's Life Of Luxury Field.

Look! Robin Ventura's signaling the bullpen for his financial planner!

Something like that.

Or how about this, speaking of names?

Being the incorrigible subversive I am, I think the fans should go retro on whoever Guaranteed Rate is. I think they should return to the days of yesteryear, when men were men, women were women and ballparks were named for greedy skinflint owners instead of greedy skinflint mega-corporations.

I think White Sox fans should start calling the place "Comiskey" again.

Hardball in S.D.

Look, I don't know what Joey Bosa (or his people) is thinking. His dad held out as a rookie, too, many moons ago, so maybe this is just genetics at work.

What I do know is the San Diego Chargers have inserted the nuclear launch codes and started the countdown to Armegeddon, and there's no turning back now. Their public call-out of Bosa, the No. 3 pick in the draft and the only first-rounder still holding out, is a point-of-no-return move that guarantees nothing but acrimony with a player who, as a first-round pick, represents a commodity you don't want to risk squandering.

But they're well on the road to doing it. After Bosa (and his people) rejected the Chargers' "best offer," they released a statement to the media basically painting their top pick as a money-grubbing tool who was rejecting an initial signing bonus payment larger than any rookie has gotten in the past two drafts. He was also, the Chargers said, turning down more first-year money than any 2016 rookie except Eagles' pick Carson Wentz, and snubbing the "largest payment and the highest percentage of signing bonus received in the first calendar year" of any Chargers first-round pick since the adoption of the NFL's collective bargaining agreement in 2011.

In other words: We're offering this guy the moon. But he wants the stars, too.

That, of course, assumes the Chargers are telling the truth about all of the above, which is in no way certain. Since they presented no numbers to back up what they're saying, it's basically just a lot of expended oxygen. As someone once almost said, the first casualty of contract negotiations is the truth.

That's certainly the case with the part of the Chargers' statement that indicated they would be putting a less cushy deal on the table from here on out, because from here on out Bosa, unless he comes in immediately, would not be giving the Chargers a full 16 games of value. Which is absurd, because with few exceptions (and Bosa isn't one), no rookie ever gives a full 16 games of value. Either he starts out as a backup or spends half the season learning how to play the pro game. Almost no one steps in and is a fully-formed All-Pro from the first snap of his first game.

Better for the Chargers had they simply said they were reducing their offer as punishment for Bosa's holding out than to invent some flimsy rationale like this. It would have lent the rest of their statement more credibility.

None of this is to suggest that Bosa  isn't being a tool, understand. Or a fool.
Continuing to stand firm at this point, after all, is a no-win proposition for him, too. All it means if  he winds up sitting out the entire season is he doesn't make the $17 million he would have made had he accepted the Chargers' offer yesterday. That's lost revenue he's unlikely ever to recoup no matter how sweet a deal he winds up landing further down the road.

So why not just sign now, play your ass off and cash in later?

Eventually, that's what's going to happen anyway. The only difference now is, down that road, it likely won't be with the Chargers. That's what their stance will cost them.

So this is your classic lose-lose. Which Chargers fans, frankly, are probably used to.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tackling (no) dummies

You can already hear the anti-wussification brigade, tuning up in some distant peanut gallery. Tackle football without the tackling? Why, they really are trying to turn Our American Game into ballroom dancing!

On the other hand ...

On the other hand, maybe they're just trying to inject a little thought process into it.

And so out in New Jersey on Saturday, there will be a scrimmage involving three small high schools. It will be a contact scrimmage. Pads will be worn. The only thing there won't be is tackling.

The excellent reason for this, explains the coach of one participant, Blair Academy, is that 80 percent of injuries happen when tackling or being tackled, and no one wants to lose any players to injury in what amounts to a glorified practice. For one thing, with only about 35 varsity players, losing players in practice is not a luxury Blair (or the other schools, Kittatinny and Belvedere) can afford.  So losing players when you can possibly avoid it is not upholding the manly traditions of football. It's just stupid.

"It's not being soft," Blair coach Jim Saylor told USA  Today. "It's being safe."

And, of course, smart. Some of the same people who might sneer at the no-tackle policy, after all, also malign the much-maligned NFL preseason. And the reason?

Because too many guys get hurt in these meaningless exhibitions and aren't ready to go when the real football begins.

Same deal here. Come Friday nights this fall, there will be plenty of tackling at Blair and elsewhere. There will also be tackling in Ivy League games on Saturdays. But in both places, there'll be no tackling in practice. It's part of a growing trend in response to the growing body of research that indicates repeated shots to the head carry lasting, life-shortening consequences.

That trend includes concussion sensors in helmets and the teaching of rugby-style tackling techniques, something Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has been doing since his days at USC.

"If it's good enough for the NFL and USC and Dartmouth, it's something that can be done anywhere," Saylor says.

And should be, for the good of the game. Because how is it good for the game, after all, if those who play it wind up as shuffling "Walking Dead" extras, complete with the stir-fried melons? How can you even call it a game anymore, if that's the case?

And -- most vitally, for the game's continued existence -- what parent would want their kid to play it?

Your NFL preseason report for today

And now a few notes from the NFL's preseason, where alleged games of alleged consequence are contested, players of whom you may vaguely have heard vanish without a trace and some of the finest athletes on the planet occasionally display the manual dexterity of 5-year-olds:

* Speaking of which ... Tom Brady.

Who last week sliced his thumb open with a pair of scissors while trying to cut tape off his shoe. Luckily, he's a grown man and a professional football player. Otherwise ...

Well. I heard they hold kindergartners back for stuff like that.

* In other news, Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman cut his hair.

You may not think this is significant. But before he shaved his skull clean, Perriman had some of the most luxurious dreads in the NFL. He says cutting them off dropped him three to four pounds, and, you know, everybody says lighter is quicker.

Besides, it worked for Torrey Smith. In 2013, he cut his hair, and the result was a career season: 65 catches for 1,128 yards and four touchdowns.

So much for that Samson thing.

* You think you've had a bad month?

You're a master of the universe compared to poor Roberto Aguayo.

The Buccaneers' rookie placekicker barely missed anything in college -- at Florida State, he never missed an extra point and missed only nine field goals in his career -- but it's been nothing but Yip City for him with Tampa Bay so far. In two preseason games, he's missed two field goals and an extra point, and in Tuesday's joint practice with the Cleveland Browns, he went 3-for-6.'

For which he was booed by his own fans.

(And who does that, anyway? Boos a guy in practice who clearly needs your support? I swear, NFL fans are living proof that evolution has a reverse gear.)

Anyway, the good news was Aguayo wrapped up the practice by sticking a 50-yarder, for which he was mobbed by his teammates. So maybe there's hope for the kid yet.

If not, I hear this guy's available.

Or this guy.

Or, you know, this guy.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The good. The bad. The sublime.

So maybe what defines Rio for you is Usain Bolt, sprinting toward his sunset in a blur of light and joy. Maybe it's Michael Phelps, laden with gold in his own sunset moment. Or maybe it's Brazilian soccer star Neymar slicing the ball into the net beyond the outstretched hands of Germany's keeper, touching off a celebration that dwarfed all others in a fortnight of celebrations.

The athletes always redeem everything in the Olympic Games, even the bleached-brain idiots among them (you may exit stage left now, Ryan Lochte). And so if Rio wasn't perfect -- not the disaster some saw coming, but no clockwork pageant, either -- the athletes were, more times than not, and that's what everyone will remember when all else recedes into history.

The athletes always redeem everything. And maybe no one more so than someone who didn't make it to the top step of the podium, someone who defined being brave in the attempt in the most sublime manner possible.

Maybe you saw Ethiopia's Feyisa Lilesa cross the finish line the men's marathon Sunday, far behind gold medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya but ahead of everyone else. Maybe you saw him repeatedly raise his arms and cross his fists in an "X" as he did so. And maybe you wondered what that meant.

What it meant is that Feyisa Lilesa may not be able to go home again.

The crossed-fists "X", see, was a gesture of defiance aimed at his own government, a gesture employed by Ethiopia's Oromo people to protest their marginalization by the Ethiopian regime. The government has responded to these protests with force; according to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 people have been killed since last November.

Lilesa's "X" was his way of standing with the Oromo, and he reiterated it in the post-race news conference.

"The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere, as Oromo is my tribe," Lilesa said. "My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed."

He went on to say that, because of what he'd just done and said, he might not be able to return to Ethiopia without being imprisoned himself. This does not seem far-fetched; Ethiopian TV, after all, refused to air footage of him finishing the marathon with his arms crossed in that distinctive "X."

And if you're one of those who think Lilesa was out of line to make such a blatant political statement at the Olympics, you need to catch the next time machine from 1896. The modern Olympics have been a vehicle for political expression since at least 1936, when Adolph Hitler used the Berlin Games as a propaganda vehicle for National Socialism. The Cold War was waged on the athletic fields from Helsinki to Los Angeles. And when Lilesa raised his arms and crossed them, he was merely echoing Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising gloved fists on the medals stand in Mexico City 48 years ago to protest racial inequality in America.

It was an act for which they were punished by their nation's Olympic ruling body -- another echo of what likely awaits Lilesa should he go back to Ethiopia.

But before all that, he gave the Rio Games perhaps their signature moment. Because it was about more than just Games.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Arresting developments

This was not one of the legendary weeks at Notre Dame, like the Irish vs. Miami in 1988, or the Irish vs. Florida State in 1993, or the Irish vs. USC in 2005. The Irish vs. Police Blotter, one assumes, will never take on the golden shimmer of those others, and there will be no lore to grow up around it, nor statuary to commemorate it.

But there will be consequences, one would hope. And accountability. And maybe, though less likely, some responsibility.

That's because at some point, yes, young men need to be accountable for what they do, and what six Notre Dame football players did this week was not, shall we say, a shake-down-the-thunder moment. Five players -- senior safety Max Redfield, redshirt freshman cornerback Ashton White, freshman wide receiver Kevin Stepherson, sophomore running back Dexter Willliams and sophomore linebacker Te'von Coney -- were arrested Friday night after police stopped them for speeding and reported finding a handgun and marijuana in the car.

Meanwhile, cornerback Devin Butler got nicked post-midnight (when, as we all know, nothing good ever happens) after allegedly fighting with the cops who arrived to arrest him.

Hard to say if this means we need to rethink the old "Catholics vs. Convicts" T-shirts. But I would imagine fans and students at Miami, the school that inspired that shirt, are having a good chortle this weekend at such a turning of the worm.

Here's what isn't funny: That head coach Brian Kelly will likely not suffer repercussions for this. Which is where the responsibility part comes in.

That's because, again, it's ultimately on the kids, and the team leaders, to keep themselves in line. They are accountable for that. And yet it is the head coach who is ultimately responsible for what goes on in his program. And frankly, too few people seem to demand it these days at your major college football corporations -- of which Notre Dame is certainly one.

Winning is not only the major imperative at Football Inc., it's the ultimate insulator for those coaches who deliver the Ws.  Urban Meyer won two national titles at Florida, which is why the school never laid a finger on him for the 30 or so Florida players who were arrested on his watch --  a pattern that has continued at Ohio State. And at Baylor, Art Briles made the Bears a national power, which is why a petition circulated to reinstate him after he was fired for running what was essentially a group home for sexual predators.

Kelly, meanwhile, has restored Notre Dame to national relevance. Which may or not be why he never seems to bear any consequences when his players wind up where six of them wound up this week.

Maybe there's some wrist-slapping going on behind closed doors at ND, but publicly, I'm trying hard to remember a time when the Notre Dame athletic hierarchy demanded more responsibility except in general terms. My memory may be faulty here, but to my knowledge, athletic director Jack Swarbrick has never called out his head coach in any meaningful way. This despite a string of mostly alcohol-related arrests on his watch, including the three separate arrests for which star receiver Michael Floyd was never really punished by Kelly.

I don't know what Swarbrick's official response will be to this. But I'll be shocked if he publicly admonishes his head coach  to rein in his program, because that hardly ever happens in the world of Football Inc.

Besides, the preseason polls are out. Kelly's Irish are ranked ninth in the coaches' poll and 14th by the Associated Press.

UPDATE: Kelly reacts swiftly and firmly to the latest incidents. Good for him. Though it's not like he really had much choice this time.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Let's get ugly

Ashton Eaton won the decathlon again last night, so that was good. Tied the Olympic record. Became only the third man in history to win back-to-back Olympic decathlons. Even took time out from his busy day to congratulate American teammate Kerron Clement, who won the 400 for Uncle Sam.

Only thing he didn't do was something illegal/embarrassing/egregiously stupid.

That means we still have a fighting chance to get out of Rio without a complete outbreak of Ugly Americanism, which is seeing a fine resurgence these days thanks to a certain presidential candidate and the racist/xenophobic/just-plain-jerkwater nitwits who adore him.  That it's spread to Rio is largely due to the herculean efforts of sociopathic soccer goalie Hope Solo and platinum-haired goofball Ryan Lochte, who've given the world a preview of what America will look like if the Game Show Host wins and (one assumes) ushers in the end times.

Which is to say: Self-indulgent, grotesquely entitled and convinced that if you're not American, you're crap.

Solo gave us a splendid example of the latter when she lashed out at the Sweden team that upset the U.S. in the Olympic quarterfinals, calling them "cowards" because the Swedes executed a successful game plan and the Americans did not. Extra points for not owning her own role in the loss; Solo gave a several weak goals in the tournament and was not, for perhaps the first time, the team's best asset.

All she was was a jerk. An Ugly American of the first water.

And speaking of water, let's talk about swimming star Lochte, our very own homegrown idiot. First he invents some cockamamie story about being robbed at gunpoint (in which he's the hero, of course, bravely refusing to get on the ground even though someone was supposedly pointing a gun in his face). Then, as the story quickly unravels, he heroically flees to the United States, leaving the three young swimmers he led astray that fateful night to take the fall.

Turns out the four of them, likely drunk as lords, vandalized a gas station bathroom when they found its door locked (How dare they lock us out? We're Americans!). Then a security guard showed up, weapon drawn. Then, like the entitled little punks they were, they basically threw money at the guy to cover the damage and skedaddled.

Given the relatively trivial nature of the whole business, why they didn't just come clean and tell the truth about what happened is a question best left to those with half a brain. That they figured the fake-cop-robbed-us-at-gunpoint story would fly, however, is a nifty little window into what they really thought of their hosts. Of course people will believe it! I mean, it's Rio! Everyone knows they're all criminals here, looking to victimize clean-cut American lads like ourselves!

Or, you know, something along those lines.

Of course, the IOC, desperate to avoid yet another scandal, soft-shoed the whole thing,
essentially saying it was just a case of boys being boys. This despite the fact that, at 32, the ringleader (Lochte) was clearly no boy.

Although he does play one on TV, apparently. Among other roles.

Ugly American being one.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Power madness

Aaron Rodgers is right, of course. But he is also not right.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback went on radio with Jim Rome yesterday, and what he said is what is the prevailing opinion these days: That whatever indignities Roger Goodell visits upon the workforce in the NFL, the workforce has no one to blame for itself for ceding all that power to Goodell during negotiations for the current collective bargaining agreement.

This is true, to a point. But there is more than some question that Goodell is now treading well beyond even the considerable powers he was given in trying to strong-arm four players, two of them Packers, into a naked-lightbulb grilling about their alleged PED use.

This is because the people doing the alleging -- Al-Jazeera America -- have already been discredited by Roger Goodell himself.  Or at least by his proxy.

This happened when the league gave Peyton Manning, who was also named in the Al-Jazeera report, a clean sheet, saying it found no credibility to the reports that he used the banned substance HGH to facilitate his recovery from neck surgery.

(This is, frankly, a fairly commonly prescribed treatment for patients in Manning's situation. As such, in the Blob's opinion, it was not the NFL's or anyone else's place to tell Manning he couldn't pursue that treatment, had he chosen to do so. Which he apparently didn't).

Anyway ... now Roger the Hammer is calling Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal and James Harrison to New York to explain themselves, based solely on this already discredited report. There is no probable cause here. The league has presented no other evidence that would justify such an interrogation. And yet Goodell has decreed that, if the four refuse to come to Papa, they'll be suspended.

Rodgers' position, and that of a lot of people, is that such a blatant abuse of authority is the players' own fault. But at some point, even Goodell's sweeping powers must have limits. At some point even Roger the Hammer is subject to the laws of the nation in which he lives and by whose grace he and his mighty empire have been allowed to thrive. To threaten what amounts to jail time for non-cooperation in a clearly illegitimate investigation would seem to violate some of those laws with breathtaking arrogance.

But then again, Goodell comes to this fresh off the Tom Brady case, in which the courts essentially said the NFL, as a private enterprise (brief pause here for loud guffawing), is a law unto itself. And so you can't really blame the commish for thinking he can pretty much get away with anything.

Of course, there will be always be a certain faction in American society whose response to these sorts of abuses is "Well, if they've got nothing to hide, why don't they just submit?" This is a compelling response until you realize it's the rationale that's propped up every vicious totalitarian regime in history. The KGB/Gestapo/secret police want to talk to you? Well, if you've got nothing to hide, what's the big deal?

Harrison, for one, could tell them.

“If that’s the case, then somebody could come out and say James Harrison is a pedophile,” he said, adding that he'd be willing to sit out the season if that's what it comes to. “They are going to suspend me, put me under investigation for being a pedophile just because somebody said it? I’m not going to answer questions for every little thing some Tom, Dick and Harry comes up with.”


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Story time

Well, this just gets stranger and stranger.

Remember that yarn American swimmer Ryan Lochte spun the other day, about how he and three other American swimmers got robbed at gunpoint by thieves posing as police officers?

It seems the Rio police are having grave doubts about the authenticity of Lochte's tale, claiming his and the others' accounts keep changing and the authorities can't find anyone to corroborate their story. Which means one of a couple things:

1. Lochte made the whole thing up because he's a weapons-grade attention whore and general weirdo. I mean, we all remember his short-lived (and numbingly stupid) reality show.

2. The Rio cops are simply playing CYA because the thieves really did pose as cops or actually were cops, which is possible because Brazil would have to be the only nation on the face of the Earth without dirty cops if it were not possible. Which of course is not possible.

Confused yet?

Update: A Brazilian judge has ordered Lochte's and another swimmer's passports be seized. If they're still in the country.


The problem with the news media, see, is they insist on asking questions.

No, not the Game Show Host's line, although he'd probably second it, given his imperious how-dare-you-call-me-on-my-BS nature and thin-to-the-point-of-translucence skin.

This one belongs to Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh (aka "Har-bawl"), who gathered up his toys and went home Monday after a reporter had the temerity to ask a follow-up question concerning a couple of suspensions. Harbaugh thought that was dirty pool, and everything that was wrong these days with the media, which simply doesn't know when to shut up when they're told to by football coaches and the like.

"That's why I don't give you any information. Because you're never satisfied," Harbaugh whined. "You always have a second question, a third question, a fourth question."

Well ... yeah. That's kinda what reporters do, Jimmy.

In this case, it was only two questions, both entirely legitimate. Harbaugh announced the suspensions and said they were being handled internally. Because of that, no one then asked what the players were being suspended for, because that's what "being handled internally" means. What it doesn't cover is how long the suspensions were for, and so someone asked that.

Harbaugh snapped that he said it was being handled internally, a non-sequitir. Then he stomped off.

Which is nothing new, frankly. Coaches are control freaks; they will do whatever they deem necessary to control even those over whom they have no authority. It's what they do.

But it's not, and never is, a good look when they do it. They invariably just come off looking childish and over-reactive. Harbaugh's been around long enough to know that. Which makes the Blob wonder if something else was going on to elicit such a, yes, childish and over-reactive response.

Of course, whatever it is, I'm sure it's being handled internally.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Your OIympic owie for today

Because, really, haven't we all been here?

Brain cramp

Such a weird deal, the human brain. Most of the time it's relatively easy to engage, and (it goes without saying) easier for some than others.  Then there are the times it simply refuses to turn over, like your car on a cold morning.

Enter a certain employee of the Chicago Cubs, whose brain failed spectacularly to engage the other night.

There was Aroldis Chapman, ace closer and accused choker of his girlfriend. And there was said employee, deciding a certain tune would be the appropriate accompaniment after Chapman retired the side.

The tune was, um, "Smack My B**ch Up," by some alleged artist called Prodigy.

And here you're wondering, probably needlessly, "What the (bleep) was he thinking?", because the answer ("He wasn't") is obvious. Extra points if you also wondered "What the (bleep) is a piece of misogynist trash like that even doing on the ballpark playlist?"

The Cubs, properly mortified, fired the guy. One can only hope his successor finds something more appropriate the next time Chapman appears in a game.

I'm thinking this.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Your Olympic moment for today

Yeah, the water's still green (no matter how the IOC tries to spin it). Yeah, Rio's still a dangerous place at night (just ask swimmer Ryan Lochte, robbed at gunpoint, and the media members on the bus whose windows got shot out).

But it's still, you know, the Olympics.

The athletes always redeem whatever mess the corrupt officials who run the Games make of things, and that's surely been true this time around. You watch the greatest Olympian in history, Michael Phelps Cyborg, and you forget the rest. You watch Katie Ledecky Also Cyborg win by six nautical miles, and all the bad becomes background noise. Ditto Usain Bolt winning the 100 for the third straight Olympics, and a South African named Wayde Van Niekerk running one of the greatest races of all time in the 400, and a young Ethiopian woman named Almaz Ayana destroying the world record in the 10,000 meters by 14 seconds in her first Olympics.

The athletes always redeem the Games. It's why we cheer. It's why we pound tabletops and shout. It's why stuff like this happens.

Cheering for the Olympics as a security threat. Every day it's something new.

A few words on sanctimony

So now it's not just Lilly King.

Now it's also Jenny Simpson, American and 1,500-meter track finalist, who has decided to take on the mantle of self-appointed arbiter of ethics at the Rio Olympics. She won her semifinal last night, then launched into an attack on world-record holder and gold medal favorite Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, implying guilt by association because Dibaba's coach was arrested two months ago on suspicion of having performance-enhancing drugs.

“I think that you know a tree by the fruit that it bears,” Simpson said. “And if a tree bears sour fruit, then the fruit around it are likely infected."

Here's what I think about that, or at least have come to think about it: There's a very, very fine line between speaking truth to power and hypocritical sanctimony.

King walked right up to that line when she condemned Russian rival Yulia Efimova, a two-time drug cheat, saying Efimova shouldn't have been in the Games. She saved herself only by not being chauvinistic about it, saying anyone -- even an American like, say, sprinter Justin Gatlin, who also once was suspended for PED violations -- who went down the PED road should never be allowed to compete in the Olympics again.

It was a draconian stance applauded by many -- including the guy driving this sentence, at least in the sense she was ecumenical about it.  I have since concluded that Lilly King is 19 years old, with the diminished perspective of a 19 year old. The notion that this is a nation built on the kind of second chances she seemed to scorn may not have occurred to her.

If it had, she wouldn't have condemned by implication U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin, who again won the silver in the men's 100 meters behind Usain Bolt last night, and who served his own suspension almost a decade ago. In the years since, he's slowly worked his way back to an exalted place on the world stage, and by all accounts has done it clean. It's a journey for which we would be poorer if the world were run by people with Lilly King's sensibilities.

Or, for that matter, Jenny Simpson's. It's one thing to criticize an athlete who's been found guilty and served his or her time; it's entirely another to trash an athlete who's yet to be convicted (or even accused) of any wrongdoing. To do so just makes you look small and weak and the prototypical Ugly American. And even if the Game Show Host has made Ugly Americanism fashionable this election season with his tell-it-like-it-isn't rantings, it does you no credit.

So no points here for Jenny Simpson. Unless she's got some proof, the advisable course is simple: Shut up and run.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Murk that works, sort of

So by now everyone knows about that water deal in Rio, which does not have anything to do with the open sewer that comprises some of the outdoor venues (although a kayaker did hit a submerged couch during a training run). It has to do with the indoor venues, which no one thought would be an issue until the water started turning green and brown and foul-smelling at the diving venue and water polo venue next door.

American diver Abby Johnston dubbed her venue "The Swamp," incurring the social media wrath of proud Brazilians everywhere. On the other hand, she said she had no issues diving in it. Perhaps this is because no submerged couches have been discovered in it -- which, to be honest, would kind of make the diving more exciting in a twisted sort of way.

(Brief pause for mental image of David Boudia executing a perfect half-gainer between a plush pull-out sofa bed and a finely appointed recliner).

Anyway ... apparently some Brazilian officials are sufficiently embarrassed by The Swamp to declare they'll be draining the adjacent water polo venue and filling it with clean water, on account of the synchronized swimming is about to begin there and half of synchronized swimming happens under the water. Which means you've kind of got to see underwater, and green, murky, swampy water would be a definite detriment to that.

Here's what I think: I think it's synchronized swimming. And the Blob's admittedly chauvinistic attitude toward synchronized swimming is the less we can see of it, the better.

(This would also apply to rhythmic gymnastics, aka, "recess." But that's another Blob for another day).

Like women's gymnastics, synchronized swimming does nothing for me, except when these guys do it. So if murky water would prevent me from viewing half the show, my inclination to flip the channel to, say, a "Law & Order: SVU" rerun would prevent me from watching the rest of it, anyway.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Grace, and ... well, not

OK. So maybe Katie Ledecky is not a cyborg.

This after she showed real human emotion after wrapping up her Olympics with a fourth gold medal last night, a gold medal that ironically sealed her rep as some sort of computer chip-based lifeform for all time. Yes, of course she won the 800, and, yes, of course she shattered the world record, finishing in 8 minutes, 4.79 seconds. Twelve seconds later -- 12 seconds! -- Jazz Carlin touched the wall for the silver.

Olympic officials immediately tested Ledecky for evidence of the banned substance Evinrude. OK, they didn't.

No, here's to Ledecky, along with the ageless Michael Phelps (another cyborg) the star of these Olympic Games so far. It's not often you see true historic greatness and realize in real time you're seeing true historic greatness, but this was one of those times.

And then there's the flip side of all that.

The flip side you could find on the soccer pitch, where Sweden upset the vaunted American women's team on penalty kicks in the quarterfinals. It marks the first time the U.S. women will not medal in an Olympic Games, and if it was kind of a Miracle-On-Ice in reverse, it was notable as much for the graceless way America's most graceless Olympian responded to it.

That Olympian, of course, is goalkeeper Hope Solo, longtime jackwagon and possible sociopath. She ought to be in jail for beating up one of her relatives, but she was in goal, instead, and later went full sore loser, whining that the best team didn't win and that Sweden had played like "cowards" because, horror of horrors, the Swedes played defensive position soccer.

Um, Ms. Jackwagon, that's not gutless. That's smart. And a winning strategy.

Not that the Swedes cared a whit what Ms. Jackwagon thought, anyway. When asked about Solo's comments, Swedish coach Pia Sundhage, who used to coach the U.S. women, gave the only worthy response.

"I don't give a crap," Sundhage said. "We're going to Rio, and she's going home."


Friday, August 12, 2016

Nicked names

And now we hit pause on Rio for a second, even as Michael Phelps, cyborg, wins a 22nd gold medal, and Simone Manuel makes history by becoming the first African-American woman ever to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming, and Simone Biles does what everyone in the world knew she was going to do, which is win the all-around in women's gymnastics.

More momentous doings are afoot.

They come out of Las Vegas, Nevada, today, where apparently the NHL is about to suffer an even more momentous fail than putting a professional hockey team in Las Vegas. Reports out of Sin City indicate the name-the-team search is down to three, and none of the three is  likely to elicit excited cries of "Cool!" from any known constituency.

The names, we're told, are Red Hawks, Desert Hawks or Nighthawks.

Zzzz, zzzzz and zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Seriously, folks. You're going down the well-trodden Hawks path? Why not just call them the Lions? Or the Tigers? Or something else similarly generic?

I mean, you couldn't even consider the Las Vegas Moe Green's Eyes, in honor of that scene in "Godfather II" where Vegas mobster Moe Green gets shot in the eye?

Vegas deserves something as outlandishly off-kilter, being Vegas. Something-Hawks? That's what you name the high school teams in Mayberry.

 Really, people. It's like you're not even trying.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hold the jokes. For now.

And so the jokes will begin, because this is what we do now. We love our cliff divers, apparently. It's why we build such lofty pedestals for guys like Tim Tebow, because the free falls are always so spectacular.

He never had the skill set to be an NFL quarterback, most of us knew it, and so we waited out Tebow Mania, waited and waited, until at last he wound up a fourth-string quarterback in Philadelphia. Couldn't even beat out Matt Barkley, for heaven's sake. Which is as spectacular a free-fall as exists.

And now?

Now he's going to give baseball a try.  Cue the Michael-Jordan-suing-for-copyright-infringement jokes, the so-this-is-why-A-Rod-is-quitting jokes, the well-at-least-no-one-will-block-the-plate-on-him jokes.

Here's the thing though: Smarter people than we are think he has a shot at this.

True, Tebow hasn't played baseball since his junior year in high school 12 years ago, but he batted almost .500 that year and was good enough that the Angels actually tried to convince him to choose baseball over football. He was, and remains, a superior athlete. In fact, he's always been more of an athlete than a quarterback; had he been amenable to the idea, he might still be playing in the NFL today as an H-back or a tight end. His size and athleticism pretty much made him the prototype for those positions.

So maybe the jokes are a trifle premature.

"He had a strong arm and had a lot of power. If he would have been there his senior year he definitely would have had a good chance to be drafted," Red Sox scout Stephen Hargett recalled on WEEI radio in Boston. "He had leverage to his swing. He had some natural loft. He had some good power. He was a good athlete. He had enough arm for that position. He was a left-handed hitter with strength and some size." 
Does that mean he's going to wind up in the major leagues?
Probably not. He is, after all, 28 years old. No matter how much potential he shows, he'll likely be starting in low-A, high-A at best. You don't see many 28-year-olds at that level, even if they're Tim Tebow. Most of the players at that level will be close to a decade younger, and, even if Tebow's a superior talent, whatever organization he's with is going to look at the kids as a better investment long term. There's simply more upside to a 19-year-old with skills than someone who, best case, is going to be 30 years old at least before he gets to the big club.

Which isn't to say it couldn't happen. So hold the jokes for now. 

Your stupid Olympic "controversy" for today

I know how you're going to take this. Don't think you're fooling me any.

The Blob, after all, is the product of a 61-year-old man who's done his share of standing on the front porch shaking his bony fist at all those damn kids on his lawn. So anything negative I have to say about social media is invariably going to look like I'm out there on the porch again, unfurling another old-guy rant.

Except I'm not. Really.

See, I'm a social media guy myself, and -- unlike, say, the once-great Mitch Albom, who seems to spend an inordinate amount of time these days railing about the bleeping internet -- I recognize its value. And so when I say social media has a positive gift for making mountains out of molehills, I come at it from a pretty rational place.

Social media is great. It's also, on occasion, stupid.

Which brings us ("Finally!" you're saying) to American gymnast Gabby Douglas, who failed to place her hand over her heart during the National Anthem the other night, and incurred the mighty wrath of Nitwit Nation because of it. You'd think she'd torn down the flag, doused it with lighter fluid and grilled burgers over it, for all the online outrage. And so Douglas was compelled to go on Twitter and explain herself.

Which was absurd.

Absurd, because, the last I looked, this was an allegedly free country. Which means when they play the national anthem, as long as you stand respectfully for it (which Douglas did), it's nobody's damn business where you keep your hands. Getting outraged about it is ... well, I can think of a million things deserving of our outrage these days. This isn't one of them.

Look. I was a sportswriter for 38 years, which means I stood for the National Anthem countless times. (I even sang it once at a TinCaps game, and managed not to send the audience screaming in horror into the streets).  In all those times, I stood pretty much the same way: With my feet apart and my hands clasped behind my back, standing at semi-attention.

This did not mean I loved my country any less than all of those who placed their hands over their hearts. It just means I got into the habit of standing a certain way during the anthem and I continued doing so. There really wasn't any thought process involved in it at all.

Nor, apparently, was there for those who trashed Gabby Douglas.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Oh, the foreshadowing ...

So,as of this morning, the Cubs are 29 games over .500, the Cardinals and Pirates are so far back in the NL Central they look like microscopic organisms, and all the rest of baseball is at least 4 1/2 games behind the Monsters of Waveland Avenue.

Which, if you're a Cubs fan, of course, only means this is running inside your head on a perpetual loop.

Sweet dreams, Cub Nation. Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha.

Today's conspiracy theories, Olympic division

The Blob loves its grassy knoll. It's green, it's shady, and Elvis lives there, occasionally taking target practice with various shadowy figures who've managed to dodge the light of history, but whom we all know are there anyway. Or were, at critical times.

Anyway ... this brings us to the Rio Olympics. Some weird stuff is going on.

For instance, the best women's tennis player in the world, Serena Williams, lost with unbecoming suddenness in Olympic tennis, joining the best men's player in the world, Novak Djokovic, who also lost with unbecoming suddenness. I'm sure this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that it's August 10, and the U.S. Open starts in 19 days. Not at all.

Excuse me. This coughing, it just came on all of a sudden.

While I recover, let's rewind the tape and watch Katie Ledecky win the 200 free again, and Michael Phelps win the 200 butterfly. Ledecky still has never lost an event in international competition. Phelps, meanwhile, is 31 years old and now has 21 Olympic gold medals. Katie Ledecky was a toddler the first time he swam in the Olympics, in Sydney in 2000. That's so long ago unconfirmed reports indicate the venue where Phelps first competed is now a retention pond.

At any rate, I'm sure none of this means both he and Ledecky are cyborgs sent back by the Terminators as advance scouts. Of course it doesn't. That's just silly, like all this talk about something called "Skynet."

Although my TV signal scrambled a few times while both Ledecky and Phelps were swimming last night. But I'm sure that was just a coincidence. I mean, really. Skynet? 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A few more (possibly heretical) Olympic thoughts

And while we're on the subject of the Olympics ... a few more grouchy old-man thoughts, at least some of which would likely get me cast into outer darkness by certain Olympic enthusiasts/people who watch the Olympics just because it's the Olympics:

*  Yeah, yeah, yeah. Everybody loves Gabby and Simone and all the rest of those flippy little Olympic gymnasts.

Well, not me. You can have 'em.

Women's gymnastics might be my least favorite thing in the Olympics, and I can't even say why. I appreciate the athleticism. I appreciate the skill. But I'd rather watch my dog chase squirrels in the backyard than Simone Biles turn cartwheels and somersaults or whatever they're called on the uneven thingy, or Gabby Douglas do a triple Salchow or whatever it's called on the balance thingy.

I'm sorry. I just don't care about it.

Maybe, just maybe, it's their voices. Remember Kerri Strug, gutting it out on a bum ankle? It was inspiring until she opened her mouth and the voice of a Muppet came out. Kinda ruined the image.

Stupid, I know. But there you have it. I'm totally "meh" about the most-watched event in the Olympic Games. Feel free to ridicule at will.

* If you haven't watched Team USA in men's basketball yet, you haven't really missed anything. This is shaping up to be the most boring Olympic basketball tournament since the first Dream Team beat Angola 257-12 or whatever. There simply isn't anyone in this deal who can compete with KD and Carmelo 'n' them, which is why almost every game is going to look like the Cavaliers vs. Ollie from "Hoosiers."

Yesterday, for instance, the Americans thumped Venezuela 113-69. At one point in the second quarter, it was a 24-22 game. Then the Americans scored, like, 400 points in a row. The halftime score was 48-26. Game over.

Rinse. Repeat until gold.

* You know what's great about the Olympics?

What's great about the Olympics is Ping-Pong.

(And, yes, I know, nerds, it's officially "table tennis." Whatever.)

Anyway, the Olympics are great because people in America will actually sit in bars and watch Ping-Pong like it's, I don't know, NASCAR or something. They'll also watch water polo. They'll also watch bicycling, mainly on the off-chance someone kills him or herself, which a couple of people almost have on account of the road-racing course turned out to be lifted from the set of "Death Race 2000."

Heck, people will even watch dressage, which is not a fancy name for putting your pants on one leg at a time but some sort of horse thing. People wearing fancy clothes jump stuff on horses and canter and what-not. It's actually sort of mesmerizing.

I know people watch this because I once walked into a neighborhood bar on the near north side of Fort Wayne -- a bar where the Cubs or IU basketball is the usual bill of fare -- and a bunch of guys were watching dressage. I felt like taking a picture just to freeze the moment for all time.

*  Finally, a couple of thoughts on swimming.

One, they should make Katie Ledecky swim in a pair of jeans and a parka, just to make it fair. That woman is a cyborg.

Two, the best part of the swimming so far has been the ready-room cam. How awesome was it to watch Lilly King pace back and forth, pointedly ignoring Russian nemesis Yulia Efimova? Or how about Michael Phelps game-facing while South African rival Chad Le Clos shadow-boxed in front of him?

Not even dressage could beat that.       

Your Olympic moment for today

No, not Lilly King from Evansville beating two-time doper Yulia Efimova of Russia to the wall in the women's 100 breaststroke, a victory for truth, justice and the American way.  That was just the appetizer.

The real Olympic moment happened later, at the post-race presser, when King did that rarest of things in the Games: Stick a fork in provincial double standards.

Asked specifically about American track star Justin Gatlin, himself a two-time doper, she did not pull out an American flag, wave it and say, well, you know, that's different. It's not, and she knew it wasn't.

"Do I think people who have been caught for doping offenses should be on the team? No, they shouldn't," she said.

"People." Not "Russians." Not "Lithuanians." Not Poles, Brits, Chinese, Aussies, Bhutanese, Turks, Mongolians or Lichtensteiners. People.

Meaning, there'll be no wrapping the flag around this issue as far as King is concerned, no casting Gatlin's appearance as some quaint little comeback story, as NBC undoubtedly will. If Efimova shouldn't have been on those blocks last night, then Gatlin shouldn't be in them a week hence. U-S-A, U-S-A be hanged.

And kudos to one fearless 19-year-old kid for pointing that out.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Paint 1, NFL 0

And so the cry went up from Canton, Ohio, last night, a desperate plea for aid and comfort, and perhaps just general relief: "Is Benjamin Moore in the house?"

OK, OK. So we jest.

But that was some glorious fubar, the NFL losing out to a paint job in the Hall of Fame preseason game. First it's discovered that the paint on the logos at midfield and in the end zone had dried as hard as concrete, meaning players' cleats couldn't penetrate it; then, when maintenance crews tried to melt it, it also melted the rubber pellets in the Field Turf surface. So they just scrubbed the mission. The Packers and Colts would have to settle for a meet-and-greet with the fans instead of the anticipated, and more violent, meet-and-greet they'd been planning on.

Look, I get it. It's an embarrassment for the NFL, losing to paint. It messes up the timetable in Green Bay and Indianapolis, and gives the coaching staffs one fewer opportunity to evaluate what they have.

But on the other hand, it's not that much of an embarrassment. I mean, let's face it, it's a preseason game, and NFL preseason games are the equivalent of (yes, I'm going there) watching paint dry. And to be honest, paint could win all of them and no one would care except for the sad cases who can't wait to see what their backup left tackle looks like.

In fact ... given how much most NFL players, or at least the veterans, loathe preseason games, I'm guessing there's an unusual number of phone calls coming in this morning to whoever manufactured the paint used in Canton. Just sayin'.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Your "whoa" moment for today

I know I missed out on a lot this week, being occupied with vacay stuff and all. But, seriously, how did I miss this yesterday, from the NASCAR Xfinity series race at Watkins Glen?

I mean, when's the last time you saw a NASCAR car just, you know, blow up?

Poor Derrike Cope. He wins the Daytona 500 a million years ago because Dale Earnhardt cut a tire with the checkers in sight, and the fates do him like this. Apparently the Almighty wears a "3" cap when he's off duty.

Hey, look, that guy is back

Well, that was fun.

And by "fun", I mean, four days in New York doing the whole tourist thing, during which I learned some things, about New York and mostly America, and was encouraged by what I learned.

I learned you can live in a city of 8 million souls and probably 2 million languages (or so it seemed) and still have that commonality with one another and the common inclination toward doing the decent thing that makes America what it is, no matter what the Game Show Host thinks. Although I'm sure it happens, same as it does everywhere, the Gomers from Indiana did not get robbed or cheated or otherwise abused in the Big City, despite the prevailing perception  outside the Big City. People were unfailingly polite when you couldn't figure out where exactly the 6 train went. They asked where you were from. They didn't laugh when you told them.

So, two thumbs up for New York.

Now, then. What did I miss while I was gone -- other than the Olympic opening ceremonies, during which we learned that Olympic athletes sure wear some cool hats, and also some, um, not-cool hats?

Well, I apparently missed another mini-debate about the SEC's unconscionable (and possibly illegal) rule that allows coaches to deny a kid's release if he wants to transfer to another SEC school. This happened again when a football player at Alabama named Maurice Smith decided he wanted to transfer to Georgia. Head coach Nick Saban said no.

Couple of things here.

One, Smith, a sometime starter at defensive back,  graduated yesterday, so he's now a graduate student who'd be eligible immediately under NCAA rules. Two, he wasn't on the preseason Alabama roster Saban released to the media anyway. Three, Saban's defense -- that he's only following the rules set down by the SEC -- is no defense at all. Why am I doing this? Not because it's the right thing to do, because we all know it isn't. I'm doing this because the rules say I can.

Which, of course, is weapons-grade bunkum, as is the rule itself. The Blob has been on record before blasting conferences that have this rule, and speculating that it wouldn't stand up for five minutes if the players affected by it would file a class-action suit. That's because it essentially codifies indentured servitude.

The fact is, outside the bubble of college-athletics-as-a-corporate-entity, there is no right that exists for Nick Saban to deny Maurice Smith a transfer to wherever the hell he wants to go. The SEC's rule -- and other rules like it in other conferences -- amounts, in essence, to restraint of trade, given that D-I college football players are regarded as commodities by a system that only pretends they are not. The notion they are anything else is laughable, because this rule applies to no other college student.

This is especially true given Smith's status as a grad student. If an economics graduate at Alabama wants to attend, say, Vanderbilt, for his post-grad work, he is free to do so. But Alabama claims Smith, because he's a "student-athlete," does not have the same right. So tell me again how football players at institutions such as Alabama are just college students playing athletics, and not athletes playing at being college students.

Want to fix that perception?

Fine. Let the kid go, then. And get rid of that damn rule before someone makes you defend it in court. You really don't want to look silly, do you?