Saturday, August 31, 2013

Summer of Sport

Yes, I admit it.  I’m tempted to talk about Syria.   But given my previous commitment to ignore the Middle East in this week’s blog post, I will leave discussions about chemical weapons, war powers, and other related issues to the politicians and paid pundits.   Instead, I intend to take on subjects that are a whole lot less weighty. 

The title of this post is taken from a phrase I frequently heard while travelling last month in England.  The Brits were trying to rekindle the flame from their 2012 Summer Olympic Games, so they’ve decided to term the middle of 2013 “the Summer of Sport” and repeatedly encourage their citizens to grab a ball, run a race, ride a horse, or do whatever else suits their fancy as long as they get the hell fit!  Given that I hail from the United States, the “land of the large,” I was actually pretty impressed with the results.   Having seen more super-sized people walking into a Denny’s near Columbus than I saw in six days in London, I’ve have to wonder exactly how the English  stay so thin after spending their evenings standing outside of pubs drinking beer.  It must be the “sport” – that and the fact that they can’t afford escalators or elevators in many of their subway stations.   

My secret in maintaining a svelte figure is altogether different.   I use the escalators and elevators whenever available and avoid athletic competitions like the plague (other than the occasional game of ping pong).  Instead, I prefer a combination of (a) using the elliptical trainer while I watch TV in the morning and (b) maintaining a highly stressed out, workaholic lifestyle.   Hey, whatever works, right?
But even those of us who burn the candle at both ends need to relax sometimes.  And when that time comes for me, I like to put my feet up, turn on the television, and watch other people grab balls, run races, or beat the snot out of each other.  Given the choice, I prefer the last of those three alternatives.  And yes, that makes me a fan of the other kind of football – not the “beautiful game,” but the one that causes players to have a dozen or more knee operations and more concussions than they could possibly remember.  Let’s hear it for sport.

So, without any further ado, allow me to toss out a few observations on this summer of sport – as a fan, not (God forbid) a participant.  


I’m still coping with the after effects of the NBA Finals this year.  I was sickened three years ago when All-Stars LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh got together at a party and decided that they would rid the league of any sense of competition by joining forces and winning not one championship, not two, not three … not seven …   It all became a big joke when they lost in the Finals the next year.  But now, having won back-to-back Titles, it ain’t so funny no more.   And believe me, I stopped laughing a long time ago.

I had previously thought basketball was a team sport.  Now, it appears, if you want to win an NBA Championship and you’re a first-team All Star, your best bet is to get a couple of your fellow stars drunk and then just start ruminating about which city the three of you would like to grace with your presence.  It only takes two other co-conspirators, doesn’t it?  For surely, you three can find a few decent role-players to show up later and do whatever little work is left to be done.   One of those role-players is likely to be the sharp shooter who tosses in the big shot at the buzzer after you have teased the opposition into thinking that they actually had a chance to pull off the upset.

The sad truth for all of us Miami Heat haters is that this year’s NBA Finals was one of the most exciting in recent memory.  It actually looked at times like LeBron would lose – or at least it looked that way to others.   I had known, however, that he made a deal with the Devil.  Wade and Bosh were in on it too.   The deal was that they would get to go on a run of championships, and never would they get beaten by a team like San Antonio, which made its reputation by playing smart, fundamental, no-frills basketball.  Nah, it would be a cold day in Hell before the Devil would let a team like that beat his Heat.  

College basketball?   I went to Stanford.  We hired a guy who went to Duke as our coach.  Year after year, his team stinks.  But Stanford won’t fire him.   Next topic please.


Men’s tennis is a dying sport.   Its final major of the year is going on right now and nobody cares.  The problems are easy to diagnose:  the personalities aren’t nearly as interesting as they were in the golden age of the 70s and early 80s, and the players hit the ball so hard that they have difficulty sustaining the long rallies that used to be the sport’s hallmark.   I’ve been hoping for years that they would go back to the old wooden rackets, but no such luck.  So now, if you want to watch fun tennis, stick with the women.  Their personalities might not be any more interesting than the men, but at least they don’t overpower the court.

I want to salute Maria Bartoli yet again for not only winning Wimbledon this summer but for having the good taste to retire shortly thereafter.  If only Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Willie Mays had known the value of leaving on a high note.   John Elway showed that he learned from their example, and now so has Bartoli.   However, with her gone and with Sharapova on the decline, the woman’s game goes back to Serena and the Seven Dwarfs.  I did watch Vicky Azarenka beat Serena in their final tune up before the U.S. Open, but let’s not kid ourselves.  Serena’s got at least as much of a chance to win the final major of the year as LeBron has to repeat in 2014.  I’ll root against her, but she’ll win anyway.   Yawn.


Don’t ever believe anyone who says that they like golf as much in England as we do in the US.  I had to schlep my wife halfway across the town of Cambridge in order to watch the end of the final round of the British Open.  By the time we finally found a pub that was televising it, that loveable lunkhead, Phil Mickelson, had already sewn it up.   And I was left to watch the denouement with an Australian -- now there’s a group of blokes who love their sports! 

I admit it. The older I get, the more I like to watch golf.  It’s not a bourgeois thing.  I’ve been specializing in fighting corporate fraud now for decades.  Do you honestly think I’m getting more enamored with capitalism?  No, it’s simply that golf on TV just helps me relax.  The announcers speak softly, make plenty of droll comments, and rarely threaten to raise my pulse rate.  

I have to be honest, though: when it comes to golf fandom, I’m all about Tiger Woods.  Yeah, I know – he cheated on his wife, his “18 holes” weren’t on the golf course, he doesn’t sign autographs, he curses, he’s ornery when he’s not playing well, he’s a drama queen, he might not break Jack’s record … blah, blah, blah.  Go ahead and root for the zillions of boring white guys who play on the PGA tour.  Fine by me.  I’m going to root for the one guy who has more color than the rest of them put together, and that includes Vijay Singh, because I’m not talking about being “colorful” in the way that you’re thinking.  I’m saying that Tiger gives that sport what little vitality it has – and just enough to keep me awake while the TV announcers are speaking softly, making the occasional droll comment, and rarely doing anything that would threaten to raise my pulse rate.

Besides, Tiger went to Stanford.  Go Cardinal!


I have two teams: the Minnesota Twins and the Washington Nationals.  One is atrocious.  The other is merely having a bad year.

But leaving aside the competitive side of the sport, let me talk about the “topic du jour” in the realm of hardball.  Even though I have an old friend who has a big job with the Major League Baseball union, please allow me to say that the players and their union have gone a long way to ruining that sport.  I want the steroid abusers out of it.  I don’t want them punished for 50 games; I want them suspended for 250 games.  If they get caught again, make it 500 games.  And if they get caught cheating a third time, ban them from the league altogether – unless, of course, they want to play for the Yankees.  Even the Devil has given up on that team so they’ll be harmless in the Bronx.

Seriously, though, I can’t believe the union is peddling this stuff about how stiff penalties won’t deter Performance Enhancing Drug use so we should keep the penalties light.  Today, as a fan, whenever you see guys truly excel at the plate, your first thought is that they are cheating.   What’s more, if you’re a player who wants to compete on a level field with the cheaters, you’ve got to take drugs yourself and risk your own future health.   This, my friends, is madness.  In the 90s, it was largely the owners’ fault for putting up with PEDs in order to bring more fans into the stadiums. But today, the fault lies with the players and the enablers who represent them.  There is but one set of solutions: test for everything, test more often, and dramatically enhance the penalties for failed tests.  If that means that the major leaguers will stop hitting so many home runs and will once again look more like baseball players than football players, that’s the price I’m willing to pay.


OK.  Let’s start with the elephant in the room.  If you think the PED problem in baseball is bad, you seriously haven’t been watching the NFL lately.  There’s more juice in those players than in a supermarket.  Once again, I place a lot of blame on the players’ union.  

Do you remember when “labor unions” used to be a blessed term?   You rarely hear about the unions any more, except of course when you open a sports page.  And there, they make you grimace.  I’m all for their fight to support the players health care needs.  I’m all for raising consciousness about the terrible toll this sport takes on the players’ bodies and minds.  But I’m sorry – you’ve got no credibility talking about the players’ health if you won’t join the fight to remove PEDs from the game.  

On the field, I root on the Vikings and the Raiders.  So far, every time either team has trotted out their starting players during the pre-season, they finished the game humiliated.  Between the two teams, they have zero quality quarterbacks.  That’s usually not a great formula. 

Thank God, I’m also a rabid college football fan.  My Cardinal is ranked fourth in the country in the pre-season.  While I haven’t read the U.S. News and World Report lately, that might make Stanford better in football than in academics.   Let’s see Oxford or Cambridge make that claim!

As the sun is about to set on the Summer of Sport, I must urge each of you to glance at the sports pages on Sunday mornings beginning the weekend after Labor Day and ask you to make note of that “Junior University” that has heretofore best been known as the father of Silicon Valley.  See how they’re doing against the traditional football factories that otherwise comprise the top 10.  And maybe, just maybe, they can play in January for all the marbles.  In the off chance that this happens, I promise you that I won’t be blogging that week about the Middle East, no matter how many wars we start, be they full-blown conflicts or perfunctory, face-saving strikes.  

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