Sports Goggles

Archive for November 2006

What Really Happened Between Michael Strahan and Kelly Naqi

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Man, this Strahan story is crazy convoluted. If you watch ESPN or read print media reports, it seems like for all the world, that Michael Strahan is the poster-child for misogynist behavior. If you believe what you hear and read, Strahan pursued the age-old practice of attempting to intimidate a woman working in a male-dominated profession. Here’s how the Associated Press described the Naqi-Strahan exchange:

Strahan, who has been sidelined the last three weeks with a foot injury, called out Kelly Naqi, ESPN’s New York-based reporter, as she stood behind about three dozen members of the media trying to question him.

“Come here, I want to see your face when you ask this question, the way you are going to ask it,” Strahan said. “I know you are going to ask it in a way there is more division and more of a negative way than it was, so come here, I want to see your face, please.”

Strahan then asked the media to clear a path so he could see Naqi.

“You’re a responsible journalist, look me in the eye and ask this question the way you want to ask it,” said Strahan, who only came into the locker room after being told by the public relations staff that Naqi was questioning his teammates about his comments. “Look a man in the eye before you try to kill him or make up something.”

Wow. A cut and dried situation, yeah? Sounds like the Big Blue Balla’ gets the Punk-Ass Jock of the Year award, right?

But (and there almost always is)…

There’s this little nugget from Ralph Vacciano in the New York Daily News:

ESPN reporter Kelly Naqi isn’t the first reporter to be bullied by an angry athlete, and she undoubtedly won’t be the last. That’s why her boss’ response to Michael Strahan’s rant yesterday was that “It goes with the territory.”

“These situations happen,” said Vince Doria, the VP and director of news for ESPN. “(Strahan) felt compelled to do that for whatever reason.”

The following paragraph tells, from the ESPN side, why Strahan was so pissed:

Doria said he believed Naqi was singled out by Strahan because she had approached him earlier and asked him to go on camera to discuss what he said Monday on WFAN.

This goes right along with all we’ve heard. But a little later in the seven-paragraph story there’s this:

“He told her politely that he didn’t talk on Wednesdays, but he’d talk (today),” Doria said. “She thanked him. He went off out of the locker room. She then continued to pursue the story.”

And after Strahan was alerted about her pursuit, Doria said, “She was the obvious target when he came back out.”

Wait, wait, wait. What was that? Strahan agrees to talk with Naqi a day before he usually meets with the press. Then he walked out of the locker room. Hmmm, there had to be another exchange that went unreported; the exchange – at least – about a time to meet after Strahan had to leave the locker room to do whatever.

I wonder if there was something else said, or at the very least implied in the Strahan-Naqi exchange. I wonder if Mike said something like, “Now don’t go running around behind my back trying to get other info before you talk to me.” Why do I think this? Because Strahan was alerted about her pursuit. Pro jocks know the media. They know how reporters think and what their intentions are by their prior actions, and ESPN reporters are notorious for saying one thing to an athlete to gain trust, and doing another thing “to get the story the way they see fit.” And because Strahan was alerted about her pursuit, he had someone in the locker room watching Naqi’s actions.

From this, the story actually might look something like this: Michael Strahan is in the locker room after working out. ESPN’s Kelly Naqi pops over to Strahan’s locker and, knowing that he talks to the media on Thursday’s asks him if he’d do her a favor and talk with her for a couple of minutes today. Strahan, knowing he needs to put out any potential flames that might have been sparked by his comments about Plaxico Burress, agrees to an interview.

Strahan then tells Naqi that he has something to do first, but he’d definitely return for the interview. At this point, things get fuzzy because what’s not being reported, especially by ESPN or any other media outlet, is the whole exchange between Naqi and Strahan – which again, leads me to believe that Naqi didn’t keep up her end of the bargain that was struck in the exchange with Strahan. Strahan then finds an assistant and asks him to watch Naqi because he – obviously – didn’t trust Naqi, or her motives.

After Strahan leaves the locker room, Naqi immediately pursues Plaxico Burress and perhaps others to find out their side of the story, their feelings about Strahan’s comments on his radio show. Because Strahan is scheduled to speak to the media on Thursdays, all reporters must have known this fact. From the events in articles throughout the country, it appears someone told these reporters that Strahan was giving Naqi an interview when he returned to the locker room; that someone would have to have been Naqi.

At some point before re-entering the locker room, the assistant told Strahan of Naqi’s moves. By this the time reporter in the locker room is gearing up to ply Strahan with questions. Strahan is gearing up to confront Naqi when the throng of reporters is assembled. As soon as Strahan gets to his locker, he is besieged by reporters and there, conveniently at the very rear of the gaggle, is Naqi.

Rather than let this slide, Strahan gets understandably irate and calls out Naqi. The rest is history.

If you read between the lines, or read this oddly-placed seven-paragraph article written in the midst of lengthy articles around the U.S. about the Naqi-Strahan affair, then and only then can the truth of this matter be seen.

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Written by dwil

November 30, 2006 at 9:07 pm

D.R.O.P. Squad Honors: Jay Crawford of ESPN, Ken Mauer – NBA Ref

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Ahhh, the initial honorees of the DROP Squad. These two need to be rib-thumped, scooped up, and loaded into the back of a windowless van. They need to be transported back to “the spot” where they get continuously mind-jacked until they see the error of their ways. Then and only then will they be released back unto society.

Who, you might ask, are these fools and what did they do to deserve these thoughts, deserve the want to inflict upon them this type of psy-op?

Jay Crawford, host of ESPN morning show, Cold Pizza.Jay “Chicken Head” Crawford.

Racist statements: During a “1st & 10” segment discussion with Woody Paige and Skip Bayless, the three were pondering the merits of fan voting relative to the NBA all-star game in which Yao Ming was the leading vote-getter. All three realized that U.S. citizens hadn’t provided Yao with all these votes, so they surmised that people in China had to be voting for their star en masse. Bayless remarked that these people have no shot at making it to the game to which Crawford responded:

“I don’t know how this [mass voting from China affecting the All-Star candidates] can happen. After all, they can’t pay for tickets with chickens.”

For all you who somehow feel there’s nothing wrong with this statement – well, fuck you. The implication that chickens are the sole currency in China is as racist as it gets.

Today (11.29.06) Crawford, in response to seeing a vid clip of Tiger Woods testing Nike’s new driver said to Dana Jacobson:

Wow, did you see the size of that thing? It was the size of a small third-world country.”

As someone said to me, “He really had to want to say something that fucked up about several cultures and races of people. He could have said the size of Delaware, or the size of our main offices in Bristol, or the size of Skip’s (Bayless) head. But the size of a third world country – damn…

Yes, Jay. Damn.

—————–

I’d heard reports that Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas was pissed off about something. If you’re a true fan of the Association, you know how Etan is – ever the vigilant militant. I’m not making fun of the man at all, because from what older heads tell me (and from me watching old NFL films shows) athletes like Etan used to be the norm, not the extreme exception. But how we were manipulated to arrive here and now, at the height of the “era of the simulacrum” is another discussion for another day.

Anyway, I started checking the web for words from Etan. Then I found this in the Internet pages of Slam:

We were playing a home game against Cleveland, and after a timeout a referee with dark, slicked-back hair (who shall remain nameless) approached me. He said that he had heard that I write poetry, have a book, speak at universities, am into politics, etcetera, and he asked me if this was true.

I replied, Yes.

To my surprise, he responded: “You’re not as dumb as you look.”

I turned toward my teammate Antawn Jamison, who also heard the exchange, and we both looked back at this ref with eyes of bewilderment, as if to say that we couldn’t have possibly heard him right.

He saw that I was in no way amused, without even the slightest hint of a smile, and attempted to clean up his statement, saying, “Well I think it’s great, I could never do anything like that…” I simply nodded my head and returned to the game.

Shit pissed me off. I was ready to call up the fellas, find out who and where, and go huntin’. But first, there was a bit of business I had to take care of. Who is this “referee with dark slicked-back hair?” I checked back through Wiz games this season and there it was, November 18, Cleveland. I checked the box score for the refs. No, not him, hmmm, not him —– yes. Dark slicked-back hair – Ken Mauer.

Look Scottie, I really thought Nigger was appropriate.

I reached for my celly to make the necessary calls to the fellas I knew who would be ready to jump; then I said to myself, “Damn, first off it’s dinner time and secondly, by the time I rousted everybody, there’d be no way to get to whatever arena Mauer was in tonight.” So, resigned and a bit despondent, I decided to release my anger here. However, I’m not even going to type any more on Mauer. I’ll let Etan say the rest.

I’m not looking to squeeze an apology from him; don’t even want one. Why would he apologize for the way that he feels? That’s like Michael Richards apologizing for his racist, hateful rant. Not likening the referee to Kramer, but don’t apologize for something you’re not sorry about. If you simply regret that people may look at you differently as a result of your feelings, well, that’s an apology you can keep.

Stereotype is defined as an oversimplified standardized image or idea held by one person or group of another. It is 2006, and while we have come a long way, unfortunately in many ways we have also regressed.

It’s sad that so many people are still governed by stereotypes. But I guess that’s the reality that is our present day society.

Jay Crawford, Ken Mauer, welcome to the DROP Squad.

Written by dwil

November 30, 2006 at 2:47 am

Ben Wallace on Trial; Duke Isn’t Good (and Maryland Is), and; The Baby Lakers Are Nice

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I watch so much basketball each night that I sometimes end up numb by evening’s end. It’s one a.m. and the final West Coast NBA game is over. My brain just took in six hours of hoops. My hand reaches for the remote and I’m hoping the Portland game has another two minutes left, or the Phoenix game, or the Seattle. But there’s nothing but post-game shows. I have to make myself get up and walk outside. The process is more like: peel – my-self – from – the – televisions…. and go outside. There was so much to process in those e six hours that it takes two days to process all the information. But last night I concentrated on a few games and flipped intermittently through the rest. Here’s what I noticed:

* Ben Wallace, the Bulls, and the headband, the ankles, the music, etc. Contrary to mainstream reports the “no headband” rule was not in Ben Wallace’s contract. Scott Skiles verbally told Wallace about the rule just before Wallace’s introductory press conference to the Chicago media. Yet, all Chicago’s pub efforts involving Wallace include Ben with – a headband. Verdict: Bulls’ management needs to relax and let the guy wear his trademark headband.

The taped ankles thing is just the Bulls protecting their investments, the players. Here’s the scenario: Wallace doesn’t tape his ankles, then goes out and rolls his ankle slightly and misses two games; the bulls lose both. In management thinking, the missed games could have been avoided if Ben had taped his ankles. Verdict: Wallace hasn’t taped his ankles in years, so he’ll ultimately win this one.

The music? Wallace wants to play his music loud in the locker room. The Bulls say, if you listen to music, use headphones, not everybody wants to hear it. Wallace’s response? Play his tunes through his headphones so loud that the entire room can hear every word. Verdict: Wallace is guilty of childish, self-centered behavior and should, from here on out, be fined at least $5000 each time he breaks this team rule.

Wallace’s rebound average has dipped since 2004 from a 2002-03 high of 15.4 rpg to 12.2, 12.4, and 11.3 the last three years. This season he’s averaging a pedestrian – for a player who earns his keep by rebounding – 9.4 rpg. Ben’s blocks are down as well form around three a game from 2001 to 2004, to 2.4, 2.2, and 1.6 from 2004 to now.

Big Ben’s problems don’t appear to be with headbands, or untaped ankles, or music volume. His problem is that, after making a five-year statement that a rebounder-shot blocker is invaluable to an NBA team and receiving a huge contract for his work, he’s no longer hungry. Wallace has always had tempestuous relationships with his coaches, but as long as he was doing everything high-paid players refused to do on a basketball court, no one could openly complain; his off-court attitude was attributed to his “warrior attitude” and his “want to win.”

Without the effort and the stats, Wallace is on the verge of losing his cred with fans and his protection from the media. At that point, which could come sooner than later, we’ll see what Ben Wallace really made of.

* The Duke Blue Devils aren’t that good. In fact, they’re just a mediocre NCAA hoops team. Sure, they’re young, but they’re not talented. Coach K has, for the first time in 20 years, felt it necessary to slow the tempo of games to compensate for the lack of athletic ability of his teams’ core players.

Point guard Greg Paulus, a national all-American QB in high school, should have played quarterback somewhere, because he’s not an elite-level NCAA point. Now, if the Blue Devils really are going to play games in the 50s and 60s, Paulus will be fine. He won’t have to score and, through tempo, he can control the more athletic guards he’ll face throughout the season. But in fast-paced game Paulus tens to lose control of the team in his efforts to keep up with the competition. Defensively, though he’s a dogged defender in the half court
and is savvy in his ability to play the passing lanes, in an up-and-down game he’s a step slow.

Duke’s most athletic starter is Josh McRoberts. The dude is straight gifted. But. He’s soft as left-out butter, missing layup after layup rather than monster slamming and demoralizing opponents. Freshman shooting guard Jon Scheyer can shoot, but that’s it. The Devils’ swingman is the ever- out-of-control Demarcus Nelson. His line from last night’s game against Indiana says it all: 19 points, 6 boards, one dime, and four turnovers. Forward David McClure is – what can I say – a liability. Rarely have I seen a college player get 24 minutes of burn at a position where he’s supposed to score and be so invisible. Duke’s best player, highly-touted freshman Gerald Henderson, is inexplicably under-used by coach K. Unless K lets Henderson go, the Devils will have no one to match the athletic guards Duke will face throughout the season.

All-in-all, Duke will be hard-pressed to finish over .500 in ACC play; it might be a long season for Dookie V’s favorite team.

* On the flipside of the Duke coin is ACC rival Maryland. The Terps are experienced, athletic, long, and attack opponents with equal vigor on both ends of the floor. I’m not going to go into a long review of them like I did Duke. However, I will make a prediction: Barring injuries to key players, Maryland will sweep the season series with Duke, come close to doing the same to North Carolina, and will end up as the ACC team that goes the farthest in the Big Dance.

* Damn the baby Lakes are nice. Though they failed to consistently solve the Milwaukee Bucks’ Jerry Tarkanian-like amoeba zone defense and lost last night, the Lakers are going to be really good (and they won’t face many NBA teams that play zone like it’s in the middle of Big East conference play). The young players aren’t as in awe of Kobe’s insane talent (check out this article by Roland Lazenby on his Laker Noise blog about this subject) as they were last season. Lamar Odom is much more comfortable in Phil Jackson’s-Tex Winter’s triangle offense. Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujavic often enter games off the bench as a tandem and cause mass havoc with their energy and chin-up in-your-grill defense.

I commented when the season began that Andrew Bynum reminded me of a 21st century Moses Malone. In his minutes, he does nothing to tell me I’m wrong. Phil just couldn’t use him last night against Bucks big men bent on pulling him out to the perimeter; it’ll be a couple years before Bynum’s agility catches up to his size, but when it does, followers of The Association are in for a treat.

As far as other Lakers go, Maurice Evans uses quickness and his 6’5″ 220 lbs. to muscle his way to boards against bigger players, yet defends shooting guards and small forwards alike with a demonically gleeful eye on making them miserable. Luke Walton is the perfect triangle forward: excellent passer, excellent 3-ball shooter (he leads the league in 3-point FG percentage), is a proficient rebounder, and is treacherous in the defensive passing lanes.

Phil likes to play a pressure defense and is still finding ways to adapt this defense to the new, “don’t touch any offensive player who’s more than 10 feet from the basket,” NBA offensive way of being. It looks like he’s adjusting by filling his roster with tall player with long arms to shrink the court and passing angles. The smallest player to get burn is the 6’2″ Farmar. Jackson can play a team for long stretches with no player shorter than 6″5″ and with four agile players 6″7″ and taller.

Now, if starting point Smush Parker can become even a little more consistent on both ends of the floor this season, the Baby Lakes will be the surprise of the Western Conference.

That’s what I saw in Hoop Land last night – and I’m stickin’ to it.

Written by dwil

November 29, 2006 at 7:17 pm

The New York Giants Saga Reaches the Boiling Point

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Everybody’s pointing fingers in New York. Giants RB, Tiki Barber, has been undermining head coach Tom Coughlin the entire season; Jeremy Shockey appears to be Tiki’s tag-team partner in Coughlin-bashing. Now, Paul Schwartz of the New York Post lets us know that players are pointing fingers at each other, too. Well not each other but at one player in particular:

Giants defensive end Michael Strahan has come down hard on receiver Plaxico Burress for his lack of effort in Sunday’s 24-21 loss to the Titans.Burress failed to run hard on an overthrown pass from Eli Manning in the fourth quarter that was intercepted by cornerback Pacman Jones. Burress then made a half-hearted attempt at tackling Jones, who easily escaped for a 26-yard return.

“It’s a shame, because Plaxico is a great player and a good guy to be around, but at the same time you’re judged by your actions on the field and you can’t give up, you can’t quit, because you’re not quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on us,” Strahan said Monday on his weekly WFAN appearance. “We work too hard all together to have that type of stuff happen, and Plaxico is one of the guys who works hard.

“I don’t quite understand what his motivation is, or what his lack of motivation is in those type of situations. I’m pretty sure I’m going to try to see what it is and try to see if I can talk to him about it.

“He’s too great of a player to have people look at him and think he’s a quitter. Don’t be labeled as a guy who’s a sometimes player, I-play-when-I-want-to type of attitude. He’s too good for that.”

This is just what the Giants need. Coughlin publically smacks QB Eli Manning by calling him stupid Sunday night and then does a verbal drive-by on rookie DE Mathias Kiwanuka for failing to slam Tennessee QB Vince Young, forgetting that by doing so Kiwasnuka would have incurred a 15-yard penalty, not to mention a hefty fine.

Next Tiki Barber cries again about more carries and blames the coaching staff. Jeremy Shockey acts surprisingly muted in his response, but still manages to do the raised eyebrow thing when it comes to mentioning Coughlin. And Eli, instead of heaping blame on his own shoulders and maybe even saying, ‘The way I was throwing, if I was Plax, I would have quit on the play, too,’ tells the world that Burress should have bailed him out by attempting to break up the sorry pass he threw that Pac Man intercepted. Now Michael Strahan (and Antonio Pierce, by the way) have slammed Burriss.

Rather than take collective blame, the kids are standing around in a circle pointing their fingers at Burress, telling the teacher – “He did it,” when, in fact, each of them had a hand in Sunday’s failure. While the kids are doing this, the teacher Coughlin is, through the press, telling the principal that the kids are unmanagable.

So the kids want a new teacher and the teacher wants a new class to teach next year. It’ll be interesting to see what the principal, Giants CEO John K. Mara, does with this class of talented Giants after they miss the playoffs.

Written by dwil

November 29, 2006 at 5:06 pm

Tuesday Morning Notes: Texas, Texas, and More Texas

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* Texas A&M is ranked #9 in the country in the latest AP poll. What is the world coming to? However, the Aggies have upcoming back-to-back games at #12 LSU on December 5 and at #1UCLA December 9. I’ll reserve judgment on A&M’s worth until December 10.

* The Dallas Cowboys released kicker Mike Vanderjagt. Vanderjagt is the NFL’s most accurate field goal kicker of all time (86.5%) but only connected on 13 of 18 FGs for the Boys this season (72.2%). He’ll be replaced by – drum roll, please – Martin Gramatica. Now will the Patriots complete the circle and pick up Mike V?

* Since I began the morning in Texas, I might as well continue ’round the Lone Star State. Check out this blistering comment on Kevin Garnett by Tim Cowlishaw of the Dallas Morning News:

Mavericks fans can rest easy because their best player is named Dirk Nowitzki. And not Kevin Garnett.

And this thought came on a night in which Erick Dampier was Dallas‘ best player (no, really) and when Nowitzki had very un-Dirk-like numbers.

Cowlishaw goes on to say:

Garnett is the NBA’s king of empty numbers. And that’s not to say that it is totally his fault.

But then reaches back and throws another heater under The Man’s chin:

But when you are regarded as one of the league’s top five players for much of your career and you have moved well beyond $150 million in salary earnings, you should have more on your resume than this: One trip past the first round of the playoffs.

Wow, Tim. Who did a number one in your Honey Bunches of Oats? While Dirk just in the last, oh, year-and-a-half, became a standout for real, KG’s been that man standing next to Timmy Fundamental for almost a decade.

Garnett reminds me of a great actor who was given huge money for a movie and promised by the producer and director that other big names were coming on to join the project. But then the big names never showed and he was left to carry the entire movie with a bunch of mediocre bit players.

Dirk gets dug by KG.And Tim, this photo with your column of KG pimp-slapping a Dirk shot illustrates what the real deal is between the two.

* Anybody remember Matt Doherty? that guy who once coached the North Carolina Tar Heels? Well, now he’s in the hinterland coaching at Southern Methodist University (SMU) – that’s in Dallas, and I don’t blame you if you didn’t know. I just wonder what Doherty did to get himself banished from top-notch benches? The NCAA basketball coaching fraternity is so very tight I don’t think we’ll ever know (unless your name is Todd Bozeman).

* The Texas Longhorns were once sexy pick for a one-loss team to compete in the national title game. But then they ran into Kansas State and Texas A&M. Yesterday, defensive coordinator Gene Chizik fled to coach ’em up at fellow Big 12 school, Iowa State. Is there something up in Austin that we don’t know about? When you go from the Big Game in Glendale, Arizona to what, the Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl or something, in two weeks and then lose the man who built your championship defense, something has to be going on behind the scenes. Sure the Horns lost starting QB Colt McCoy, but losing to K State? And it was incumbent upon Brown to know McCoy wasn’t right before the A&M game but he started him anyway. Mack had better gear up in the off-season, or by the middle of next season, after Texas gets beat by Oklahoma the, Mack Brown can’t coach whispers will begin anew.

* San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich gave Don Nelson some serious props:

Nellie’s return is… “good for the game. His creativity is really special in this league. We’re all sort of creatures of habit, but this guy is out of the box. He does things most of us don’t have the guts to go do. “He’s always fun to be around and coach with and coach against.”

Golden State also handed the Spurs their first road loss of the season last night, 111-102.

* The Houston Cougars football team was 0-11 in 2001. This Saturday, if they beat Southern Miss at home, they’ll finish 10-2 and win the Conference USA West Division. This is a huge turnaround for any team and deserves more airtime.

* Both Rice and TCU are headed for bowl games. Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Houston, Rice, and TCU are all headed to bowl games. Is there another state in the country with six bowl-bound teams?

* Oh no! The Houston Texans lost QB Sage Rosenfels for the season with a broken thumb on his throwing hand.

* There’s a really good article by Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle on Tracy McGrady feeling Kevin Garnett’s pain. Here’s a snippet:

If only Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett had that team in the commercials, with Tim Duncan in the middle and Gilbert Arenas and Chauncey Billups in the backcourt.

If you put that fantasy team together for even one season, how different would their careers look?

How different would their reputations be?

“That’s an unbelievable team,” McGrady said. “Imagine if we were all on the same team.”

If they were, McGrady might not be labeled by his years as the league’s most prolific scorer. Garnett would likely not be hearing the talk that he should find a way out of Minnesota to a team that could help him become a champion.

True, true.

Well, that’s my tour ’round the Lone Star State. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

Written by dwil

November 28, 2006 at 2:25 pm

We, the Spectators Are the Real Problem

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Should we really give a damn beyond a comical mention of the incident, or beyond vilifying spectators, if Mike Vick flipped off some dickheads in the stands after Atlanta’s loss to the New Orleans Saints? Just like we freaked out when Dikembe Mutombo was seconds away from venturing into the stands after being called a monkey by some Middle Eastern dude whose apology came with this nugget: “I just used a poor choice of words. If I said he looked like a chimpanzee or like a gorilla, none of this happens.” Why is everyone from ESPN to Deadspin writing these stories as if they have the importance of the U.S. actually finding WMDs in Iraq?

Oh, I get it. ESPN is wholly desperate to set the moral tone for athletes around the country just like Chris “you’re with me leather” Berman, or Doug “I only bought a how to play basketball like the pros tape with the credit card I stole” Gottlieb. And Deadspin wants so badly to be seen as ESPN’s satirical little brother that they’ll do anything to have an excuse to break out the knee pads to perform acts usually reserved for members of Congress – or maybe Congressmen’s members.

Don’t act surprised about the Deadspin reference. They only act adversarial toward ESPN. Anytime Dana “the staunch neocon Michigan Yupper” Jacobson breathlessly gushes, “Deadspin! I love them!” as she did on Cold Pizza, you know there’s something more to the alleged Deadspin vs. ESPN matchup than meets the eye. It’s the same thing as seeing Joe Crawford and Bennett Salvatore on the court at the same time reffing a meaningful playoff game – you know there’s the potential for something “wrong” happening in the game.

Playing professional sports requires a tremendous amount of emotion. Even sportswriters know this fact. In the midst of a game an athlete must tap into regions of the will that for most people don’t exist. It’s the ability that allows for adrenalin to take over the thinking process so that there is no thought, no pain, no feeling – only the moment and the action within that moment. Yet athletes, lauded for this ability are asked to, in a matter of seconds or minutes, turn off this ability. They’re asked to turn it off for what? So that a camera or microphone can be shoved into their faces. So that reporters can get the real emotion of the moment. So that a voyeur public can glimpse something they only wish they possessed. Soul.

So why does it offend us so when Vick or Mutombo react this way? Why do the image makers like ESPN, Deadspin, and sportswriters around the country become so appalled when they see this?

The answer is simple. They are the ultimate voyeurs. They are the ones who are often as close to “the contest” as the athletes themselves. They are the ones who cross the threshold from hallway outsider to the sanctity of the locker room and bear witness to the after-effects of the contest on the human mind and body. And they are the ones who have the power to make these people that they cannot be or can never again be, into iconic figures – or villains for all time.

They are the uber-fan, the uber-voyeurs. And the uber-parasites of the world of athletics. Their goal, through their inadequacy, is to negatively shape the feelings of the reader of this piece or others who attempt to bring any true understanding of what they perceive as mal-actions by the athlete. But because these image-makers are not politicians, the world of sports is politics laid bare for all the world to see. Sports and the image-makers come without the nuanced language of the politico; without the slight-of-hand of a speech detailing work for “the public good” while personal coffers are being lined with gold through legislation that never sees the light of day.

In sports, like life, race is everything. White athletes are largely seen as cerebral thinking men, while black athletes are said to be athletically gifted “studs.” Art Shell – a black man – can be fired as head coach of the Oakland Raiders with a record rivaling the best of his era and not sniff a job interview for nearly 20 years. In sports the best and most highly-paid employees can be told what to wear when not at the office. Only in sports can the employees who are responsible for generating the corporation’s income be 75% black and yet only one of the subsidiary company owners of the corporation are black. Where else but sports is the worth of a human measured by body fat, the ability to jump high or run fast – and be traded at the whim of an “owner.” It is as if the racial blight of centuries that was alleged to have come and gone left its shadowy essence in the arenas and stadiums across the U.S.

And we, as watchers, spectators, voyeurs, pay our money to view the spectacle in the arena before us. Because we feel – incorrectly – that we pay those who participate in the spectacle before us, we believe it is our right to abuse the participants in any manner we choose – whether that be with words we would otherwise never utter in public, or whether that be with a well-placed cup full of beer on a participant’s chest, or with batteries, or partially-eaten food.

It is time that we who are outside the game are held accountable for our actions and are more understanding of the actions of those who reach the depths within themselves that we cannot. We need to realize that we are witnessing a game; not a life-death struggle, a game, and we need to learn to act accordingly.

If we can “raise the level” of our spectatorship and act more humane toward those we watch, then we can begin to perceive the underbelly of sports that infects the games, the athletes – and us.

And with our efforts, one day the games can become what they never were – pure.

Written by dwil

November 28, 2006 at 4:59 am

Chopping Block Day for NCAA Coaches

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It’s chopping block day for NCAA football coaches. Dirk Koetter of Arizona State, Chuck Amato of N.C. State, and Mike Shula of Alabama are gone. Texas’ defensive coordinator Gene Chizik will replace Dan McCarney at Iowa State, while Mark Dantonio replaces John L. Smith at Michigan State.

Koetter amassed a 40-33 record at ASU. According to the Jeff Metcalfe of the Arizona Republic, Koetter’s record is the second-lowest record in the post Frank Kush era, Koetter’s ream was also blown out by more than 28 points by Cal, Oregon and Oregon State, which didn’t sit well with ASU Athletic Director Lisa Love.

Amato’ teams were far too inconsistent for him to retain his job. This season the Wolfpack defeated Boston College and Florida State, yet inexplicably lost to in-state rival North Carolina and East Carolina. Very few people in and around the N.C. State program are surprised at Amato’s firing.  Though Amato had three years left on his contract, his mediocre 49-37 record along with this season’s disappointing losses was enough to let him go.

Shula’s firing is a bit more puzzling. He was hired four years ago only after Mike Price, now at UTEP, was fired for unscrupulous off-field behavior. Though his record was only 26-23, Shula took over a program grounded by NCAA sanctions and three years later finished with an unexpected 10-2 record. Yes, Shula was 0-4 against rival Auburn and lost their final three games this season. However, he received a new six-year contract in May worth $1.55 million per year. This new deal extended Shula’s contract two years through early 2012, and included a raise of $650,000 plus a $200,000 signing bonus. So, why was Mike Shula fired? Impatient boosters are to be blamed for this one.

McCarney compiled a lowly 56-84 record, including a 4-8 record this season, but on the upside, Iowa State snapped a 22-year postseason drought with five bowl appearances in McCarney’s final seven seasons. Yet in November of this year ISU A.D. Jamie Pollard asked McCarney to reign at the end of the season. Replacing  McCarney with Chizik is a coup for  the Cyclones. Chizik came to Texas in 2005 as a highly-regarded defensive coordinator who built the number two defense in the country at Auburn. He did nothing to tarnish that image at Texas. It is interesting, though, that Chizik took a job in the Big 12, the same conference as Texas. It should make for some interesting recruiting battles and season matchups in the future.

Smith’s leaving Michigan State was to be expected. The Spartans rolled in to South Bend with a 3-0 record after a solid 38-23 win over Pittsburgh. You probably know the story from here. The Spartans led the Irish by 17 at halftime and by 16 going into the 4th quarter, but suffered one of the more memorable meltdowns in NCAA football history, finally losing to Notre Dame 40-37. MSU then promptly lost at home to recent Big Ten doormat Illinois. This was followed by successive beat downs at the hands of Michigan and Ohio State. The following week Smith’s Spartans came back from a 35-point 3rd quarter deficit to defeat Northwestern, 41-38. However, this win was followed by four losses in a row, effectively sealing Smith’s fate.

It will be interesting to see what Smith’s replacement Mark Dantonio will do with the MSU football program. Dantonio came to Cincinnati with loads of fanfare and promised to convert Cinci, at the time an NCAA basketball powerhouse,  into a football school. Yet after his three-year stint with the Bearcats, Dantonio’s record was a middling 18-17, which included a 7-5 record this season. Obviously Dantonio did nothing to make UC followers forget Bearcat basketball. It’s unclear how Dantonio will fare in the Big Ten, one of the premier football conferences in the nation.

Written by dwil

November 28, 2006 at 12:44 am