Friday, February 1, 2013

Bill Simmons is right - we should openly question athletes' PED usage

Bill Simmons just published what should be a career-defining column, and what could be a future-altering column for sportswriting in general. I used to dog on Simmons for being too shtick-y, but every year he gets better.

No one wants to point out that maybe the NFL gets more and more dangerous because the guys who play the game are playing it at superhuman speeds and hitting each other with superhuman force. Certainly not every player. But enough to make it matter.

When NFL players say they believe someone is going to die on the field in the near future and that, despite their dislike of the NFL "softening" the game, additional measures by the refs and the league to curtail violent hits are probably a good thing, I wonder if the players also say (in their heads) that their peers cutting back on PEDs might also be necessary to prevent catastrophe.

The new NBA player (post-MJ) is not the old NBA player. The new golfer (post-Tiger Woods) is not the old golfer. The new baseball player (post-Kirby Puckett) is not the old baseball player, but we knew that one already.

Humans evolve, but we evolve at a rate of change within reason. Bill Simmons has every right to make PED usage speculation a "fair game" subject, and I hope it spawns meaningful discussion, debate, and ultimately, change.

Friday, May 14, 2010

The New York Cavaliers...

The Summer of LeBron is going to achieve Tebow status soon. In fact, I think it's going to surpass it, and that's no easy feat.

Last night on ESPN, Washed-Up-Former-Player-With-Penchant-For-Over-The-Top-Exaggeration No. 1 said, and I quote, "If you put a gun to my head, I'd say 'Chicago.'"

Really? It's been two hours since the Cavs were eliminated and you're already invoking the gun-to-head analogy?

We still have at least two months of this.

For my money, I'd rather ask the question, "What if LeBron played for the New York Cavaliers?" Same teammates, same management, same past record, same current situation.

Different city.

Now, that's something worth debating.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Mother's Day Perspective

Moms keep it all in perspective.

And in the sports world, thank god for moms.

Dad is typically the one who teaches you the game, who shows you how fun competition can be and then serves as your pinnacle target of frustration until you can finally beat him at his game of choice.

In this sense, Dad is often the first teacher whose words you truly absorb. He's the gatekeeper to something you really want to learn - how to win.

The trouble is, "how to win" likely isn't the first chapter in any parenting lesson book; it just happens to be the most attractive lesson to intensely competitive kids like I was (and still am, minus the "kid" part).

When life is simple and external pressures are minimal-to-none, sports can mean everything. The field, the court, the pool, the track - these are the rare places in your young life where the stakes are real.

I mean, really ISD 196, EVSN? Do you really think kids buy into grading systems that practically need a sing-a-long to be remembered, let alone understood?

I can rack up enough gold stars to wallpaper my room, but if everyone else is getting them, too, then why should I care?

On the other side of things, I can sink a game-winning 3-pointer and know, as my teammates mob me in jubilation, that we won, and the other guys lost.

Call it a young kid's first experience with intoxication. Only this type is 100 percent legal.

So you want to win. And because you don't know any better yet, you act like somebody who wants to win really, really badly.

You sulk after losses, you throw clubs after bad shots, you know you committed a foul but loudly gripe about it, anyway.

This is where Mom comes into play. If Dad is the coach (as he so often is), then Mom is the referee who has a front row seat to watch all your indiscretions. And if sports need to be the vehicle for her to instill in you the proper life lessons, then so be it.

I'll never forget the day I finally understood that winning wasn't the only thing on the line when playing sports. Fifth grade was the first year of traveling basketball - the stakes had been raised. We were experiencing our first down stretch of the season but were taking it to Eden Prarie early in the first half. Myriad missed shots and turnovers later, however, we were getting walloped. Having already developed a reputation for having a short fuse, Coach took me out of the game when I yelled in frustration after a foul call.

Like any other upstanding citizen would, I strode over to the bench and kicked over one of the chairs. I sat down in a huff, hung my head momentarily, then looked up long enough to catch the look. Or should I say, The Look.

Everyone else watching the game had their eyes moving back and forth in sync with the ball. My mom's eyes were motionless. Even though I rapidly returned to hanging my head, half in disappointment and half in dread of the ear-full I was about to receive, I'm fairly certain she didn't blink.

I had the rest of the game to consider my reputation arc from the bench. Most people you encounter in life only see you through one lens, whether that's work, school, sports or lawn-mowing. Sure, you might wish everyone could see "the whole picture," but that's not reality. And like it or not, how others see you greatly affects how they see your close friends, spouse or family.

Sure, it's common sense now, but it's the stuff of wise philosophers when you're young, temperamental and short-sighted.

And if you're lucky, that wise philosopher goes by the name "Mom," and is there to teach you how to lose, every step of the way.

...even if it takes entirely too many steps.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. From me, and from the millions of other guys out there who once needed a lesson on how to take their foot off the gas... at least just a little bit.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Who was Kobe Bryant?

I wonder if that's what we'll all ask 40 years from now when discussing this period in basketball history.

Who was Kobe Bryant?

Not the basketball player. We all know what he's done on the court. But who is Kobe as a person?

I hear the argument that "it doesn't matter... why do we need to know anything more about Kobe than we do about you?" But the difference, I counter, is that Kobe has a platform the rest of us will likely never come close to having. And when you have that platform, you should be judged on how you use it.

Or, in Kobe's case, on whether you use it at all.

When you consider the global sports landscape, only a handful of today's stars are immediately recognizable in virtually every country. LeBron James, Tiger Woods, David Beckham, Kobe Bryant... and the list might end there.

Football isn't universal enough (yet). Same goes for hockey, minus the (yet) part. Roger Federer, maybe. Derek Jeter, perhaps. But the list is small.

And when you wield that level of attention, that powerful of a personal brand, a good argument can be made that you're obligated to do something with it. Well, something other than shoot a basketball really well.

Who is Kobe Bryant?

Kobe is an extra-talented basketball player with a well-documented intense work ethic and a fierce penchant for winning. Kobe is a man who cheated on his wife. Kobe is a guy who wears Nike, drinks Vitamin Water and plays EA Sports video games.

Kobe is also the most popular public figure among perhaps the most capriciously opinionated populace in the world.

Seems like a strange dose of praise and adoration for a basketball player. But then again, Michael Jordan was pretty darn popular back in the day, too.

As each year passes, more and more people are asking, "Who is Michael Jordan?" Not so much as an earnest question, but rather to prove a point about wasted celebrity or enigmatic persona.

In his defense, Kobe is only 31. His platform, however, is aging.

But unlike his NBA body, which won't get any younger, his ability to impact change has almost infinite lifespan potential, if he chooses to unlock it.

And Kobe should know a thing or two about potential.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

USC-San Jose State: 5 Things Recap

Here is a recap of USC's 56-3 blowout of San Jose State on Saturday, through the lens of my 5 things to watch for post on Friday.

1. Who gets the early carries?

Matt Barkley put on a good opening act, but Saturday was all about Joe McKnight. The junior tailback got the early carries, and even more importantly, continued to get carries after coughing it up for the umpteenth time in his USC career.

Pete Carroll appears more than willing to put up with McKnight's fumbling woes, which should be as concerning to Trojans fans as McKnight's dazzling second touchdown dash was promising.

2. Will Bates be all about balance?

This might have more to do with No. 3 than anything else, but new offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates was content giving the majority of touches to USC's stable of tailbacks.

Running the ball worked, so Bates ran with it. You have to expect that will be the Trojans' strength moving forward, so we'll call the game one play-calling a plus.

3. Will everything be kept under wraps?

Yes. The reason? Nothing special had to be done to stomp all over the Spartans.

As the commentators said in the fourth quarter, "USC is running no more than five plays."

Just as Carroll and Bates planned it.

4. Can David Ausberry be a threat?

The jury is still out on this one. He wasn't needed Saturday, and thus, this is still a major question for USC.

5. How hard will Taylor Mays try to get a pick?

It was entertaining watching Mays after the whistle had sounded. I think he patted just about every San Jose State player on the butt. Twice.

This being Mays' fourth season, he probably understood more than his younger teammates that the game was little more than a glorified scrimmage.

We'll see how Mays approaches the Buckeyes next week.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

USC-San Jose State: 5 Things to Watch For

My Coliseum press box days are behind me, but I figure I still have a little armchair QB left in me.

My biggest gripe with USC football during the four years I was there was the lack of exciting football games. My freshman year definitely had its share (opening with 70-17 over Arkansas, finishing with Vince Young's confetti parade and staging the Bush Push in between), but after that point... well, I suppose there was the Chauncey Washington-Justin Forsett duel at Cal.

Truth be told, the most exciting games were USC's losses. Mark Sanchez's failed comeback attempt at Oregon in 2007 was a great game to watch. My most memorable moment as Daily Trojan Sports Editor was standing in the northeast corner of the Coliseum field as Tavita Pritchard connected with Mark Bradford on 4th and 9.

Heartbreaking proof that silence truly is deafening.

Looking at the schedule this year, you'd think the Trojans are due for some barn-burners. Just remember, the same was said two years ago.

At the very least, USC fans will have to wait until the Ohio State game to really get the blood flowing. So until then, here are five things to watch for in Saturday's game:

1. Who gets the early carries?

C.J. Gable started nearly every game for USC last year. It's a good trivia fact because he was hardly the feature back - many games, he'd trot off the field after the first snap or carry.

But Pete Carroll has always been fairly routine when it comes to tailback reps. Last year it was Gable, then Joe McKnight, then Stafon Johnson.

Every tailback will probably get carries Saturday, but expect some "rotational symmetry" in future games.

2. Will Bates be all about balance?

Former offensive coordinators Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian were all about balance - to a point where you wondered what was more important: scoring points or presenting a balanced offensive attack?

If you've run the ball three consecutive times for 15, 14 and 35 yards, respectively, then the next move is obviously to throw the ball.

Balance, people, balance.

New OC Jeremy Bates has an NFL pedigree; and the NFL is a league where balance means very little. You go with what works.

We'll see if he makes USC a true "pro-style" offense.

3. Will everything be kept under wraps?

If you think back to recent non-marquee OOC games, the Trojans have been pretty damn boring. And in almost every case, they had a big-name opponent waiting in the wings.

USC knows it can beat San Jose State straight up, and pretty handily at that. It'll be interesting to see if any new tweaks are unveiled.

Matt Barkley in the shotgun airing it out deep to Brice Butler?

Don't count on it.

4. Can David Ausberry be a threat?

I'm sick of all this "Ausberry has potential" talk. Implied in the word "potential" is the idea that you haven't reached your expected peak.

Ausberry was the talk of camp two years ago, with fans oozing about his impressive practice outings.

Yes, we're talkin' 'bout practice.

Until he shows up in a game, I'm not sold.

5. How hard will Taylor Mays try to get a pick?

The secret's out. Mays even said it himself in a recent LA Times article by Gary Klein: His hands are spotty.

Everyone, including NFL scouts, knows that Mays can hit. Hard.

What we don't know is whether Mays can catch.

It'll be interesting to see if Mays shifts his focus from blowing receivers up to stealing their lunch.

The pick

USC 31, San Jose State 3

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Lou Holtz: Proof That You, Too, Can Be On ESPN

There's blind support, there's unhealthy fanaticism, and then there's Lou Holtz.

There are quarterbacks that can't hang it up, there are long-time execs whose industries have passed them by, and then there's Lou Holtz.

There's John Daly, there's Richard Simmons, and then there's Lou Holtz.

Everyone knows that ole' Lou loves Notre Dame. ESPN knew it when it hired him. Until this week, however, it hadn't affected his ability to be a sane human being.

But now Lou Holtz is looking straight into the camera and declaring that Notre Dame has the best chance of winning the BCS National Championship.

Yes, that Notre Dame. Yes, this season.

It's now quite apparent that Lou Holtz has reached a new level of absurdity, one that even ESPN itself, along with its stable of clueless former athletes posing as commentators, could never have fathomed prior to this week.

In the same sequence, Kirk Herbstreit politely chuckled as he said to Lou, "I think you're on an island with that one."

Check that. Lou is on his own planet - a green planet where the sun shines gold and the rain falls navy blue; where every girl is a virgin and every neighborhood is united by its local pastor, Paul; and where dutiful citizens hitch rides on shamrock-shaped hovercrafts driven by leprechauns, guided at night not by streetlamps but by the glimmering light of Touchdown Jesus.

Lou, buddy, this is your job. You get paid to dole out your expert opinion. Heck, even if it's not expert, it's at least supposed to be educated. You aren't speaking to your Irish football team anymore.

I'm sure there won't be much written about this because Holtz has long been viewed less as a journalist and more as a source of entertainment, but think about it: If Holtz was anyone other than himself, wouldn't he be fired?

Truly. Who else could honestly saying that he's picking Notre Dame to win the championship, keep a straight face, slowly shift his gaze to the guy on his left to see what his pick is, and still have a job at ESPN the next day?

ESPN Ombudsman, where you at?

I mean, if I were Herbstreit, or Mark May, or Rece Davis, I'd wonder why I go to work every day. It's quite apparent that journalistic credibility means very little when it comes to TV ratings.

Just throw on a ridiculous hat and scream abysmal versions of college fight songs.

Grab a chalkboard and a jersey and make lovably awful halftime speeches.

Son, you were made for ESPN.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thought of the Day

If real soccer games had camera angles like FIFA 2009, would Americans give in? Think about what we do with football now - cameras hang from wires attached to the stadium lights and zoom around 10 feet above players' heads.

Hockey isn't hockey when you can't see the puck. Soccer isn't soccer when you can't see all 11 guys passing and attacking in harmony.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Closing the chapter on Favre

rett Favre was responsible for shaping my identity.

This isn't about idolatry or man-love - I never knew the guy, never spoke to him, never resurrected a shrine in his name and never really viewed him as a childhood hero - but it is about how rock-solid affiliations can guide and strengthen a persona.

Throughout my 18 years in Minnesota, from birth to high school graduation, I was a lot of things - a pianist, a soccer player, a runner, a golfer, a cool kid, a nerd, a valedictorian, a leader and a follower - but above all else, I was a Packers fan.

After all, adolescence is largely about trying to define everyone else so you don't have to define yourself. The problem with physical appearance, personality and co-curricular involvement is that these things all change. Team loyalties, however, perservere.

And when you're the biggest Packers fan all your suburban Minnesota friends know, it's an easy thing to latch on to.

So there I was. The marked Packers fan. And this is where Favre came into play.

To me, to all Packers fans, and to most sports types out there, Favre was The Touchdown King. He was the guy you couldn't hate, no matter how many times he beat you.

To Vikings fans, however, he was The Interception King. Giving Favre credit for anything was almost as difficult as showing up to the Metrodome when the Vikings weren't undefeated.

Thus, I lived my young life adding arguments, facts and stats to my arsenal of Favre (and Packers) defenses. If No. 4 threw one too many picks or if the Pack took an ugly loss, I had to mentally prepare myself for the Monday onslaught.

"Ha! Favre sucks!"

"Pete, I gotta thank you, man. Having Favre on my opponent's fantasy team has given me a newfound respect for the guy."

"Hey Simones, what was the score of the Packers game yesterday? I had to mow my lawn."

"Favre - what a bitch!"

...It was only 8 a.m.

But I took it. I dished it back. I grew to love it.

And because of it, I always had a consistent identity - the guy on the wrong side of the NFL fence that was up for any challenge thrown his way.

The Interception King moniker became something I spun as a positive. "Hey, if a guy has been allowed to throw that many interceptions," I'd say, "then he must have done a helluva lot of things right."

To this day, it's how many old friends remember me.

"It's been about 5 years since we've last spoken," said one such friend on my Facebook wall Monday, "but it only seems appropriate to say hello on this glorious day."

If it weren't for Favre, I might not be a Packers fan. Admittedly, when you're young, you want to root for a team that wins, and Green Bay did a lot of that in the nineties.

And if it weren't for Favre, I might not have grasped at the early age I did how rewarding it can be to walk your own path.

So it's only fitting, I suppose, that Favre has chosen to end his story by blazing a trail that almost no one has ventured down before.

Sure, Joe Montana played for the Chiefs, but he certainly didn't play for the Cowboys or Packers. Emmitt Smith didn't play for the Redskins. Reggie White didn't play for the Vikings or Bears.

As a Packers fan, naturally I'm a little perturbed. I can only imagine what the dude with the bright green and yellow painted house is doing in Prescott (a border town) right now.

But as a Minnesotan, I'm a little humored. If nothing else, this does prove that Vikings fans drive the biggest bandwagon in all of sports.

It's ironic that I spoke with Aaron Rodgers at length just 1 month ago at the ESPY's pre-party in Los Angeles - an event Favre would surely never show up to.

Rodgers told me candidly that he'd never really gotten over the "Favre thing" last season - the media made it impossible for him to forget.

Based on recent events, Rodgers has at least another year to go before getting that Favre thing off his back.

But beat Favre twice, Aaron, and you won't mind looking back on the early years of your career and acknowledging that Favre shaped your identity, too.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The guy who persuaded me to start blogging again

The Interception King has been resuscitated.

I know, I know - we all thought it'd never happen. It seemed like Vijay and his "let's-skip-a-golf-ball-10-times-across-a-pond-and-into-the-hole" routine would stay above the fold forever.

But you forget (or you learn) that I hold fast to my commitments. My college career is over, my apartment search is complete and the inertia preventing me from posting again has been overcome... thanks to this guy:

No, I wasn't talking about Tiger Woods. Watch again, starting from the 1:30 mark, and notice the guy just to the right of Tiger, wearing a blue shirt and a blue hat, who might be the world's only worthy challenger to Tiger's double-fist-pump enthusiasm.

Tiger didn't will that ball in. Dude in the blue shirt did. For those unfamiliar with the clip, Tiger had to birdie the 72nd hole in last year's U.S. Open to force a playoff with Rocco Mediate (which Tiger won).

Cheers, on this Father's Day, to my dad, Mark, and to dudes like blue shirt guy who make sports lovers out of all of us.