Monday, December 23, 2013

Dead on Arrival

I was at work when I read that Major League Baseball was banning home plate collisions. With every ounce of my body I wanted to scream "AW HAIL NAW" but I didn't. While some are welcoming this decision, others think that baseball is going soft. Shoot, what sport looks like it isn't soft nowadays? So many precautions...

Last week, a monumental decision was made in the American baseball realm. This decision has begun a massive schism of the ages where there are people that believe in safety and people that believe in letting men act like men in the game. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this actually happened. With slow enforcement this upcoming season leading to a full enforcement during the 2015 season, any kind of collisions occurring at home plate will be banned. Those exciting plays at home? Gone. Fear that you will be losing your catcher (or runner) for a set amount of time? Gone. All of that exciting physical stuff? Gone.

With this decision, there are a lot of good intentions behind it: Firstly, it eliminates blind hits; therefore, any kind of injury is avoided, such as whiplash or freak accidents. Secondly, it diminishes the chance of collateral damage, such as concussion, broken bones, or ruined muscles/tendons/ligaments from the hit. Lastly, there will be disciplinary action whenever something like this occurs in the future, since the concept of "targeting the catcher" is taboo in this rule.

The biggest part of this incoming rule was that catchers would no longer be allowed to block home plate. While I understand that blocking the plate is a really dangerous idea and it's sort of a reflex in a close play such as one at the plate, my response was: "When did this become Little League, and why do they want to put something similar to the 'slide or surrender rule' into effect?" Is the catcher just some placeholder that only catches a pitch now? They have pads on for more than one reason, you guys. That's just me, though. You'll see why in a second.

Amid all of this commotion, Johnny Bench is actually praising this rule. He went to Twitter after the occasion noting how he has lingering knee issues after a collision with Gary Matthews in 1975. He has taken to many other outlets since then, basically stating that this rule should have been implicated some time ago, and that men like Giants catcher (and apparent future infielder) Buster Posey have become victims of the reckless plays at home plate that should never have been allowed in the first place. Somewhere on this planet, Pete Rose is looking at a picture of Ray Fosse and going: "You took it like a man. Why can't they?" For those who aren't familiar with that whole story, the Fosse/Rose duo are most infamously known for the home plate collision during the 1970 All Star Game in which Rose stormed home plate, injuring Fosse. It was later revealed that he had a broken and separated shoulder which had healed incorrectly, ultimately affecting his entire career after that.

Again, people are going to be 50/50 on the whole matter. But with recent findings making their way out to the public, this rule seems like it needs to happen whether we like it or not.

The human body has suddenly shown frailty in our sports-loving society. Late last week, it was announced that former MLB utility player Ryan Freel, an athlete who took his life in December of 2012, was discovered to have suffered from CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This makes Freel the first known case of CTE in Major League Baseball. He had allegedly suffered up to ten concussions in his nine-year career, and they were the catalyst in his untimely death. Even Cardinals manager Mike Matheny noted how many head injuries he had sustained because of collisions. Everything seems to be falling into place, and the right people are coming out and speaking up about how there is a dark side behind the plate, and there are more injuries sustained than ever believed.

I've noted on this blog that time and time again that athletes know they have to take these chances of suffering injury playing sports. If they didn't want to get hurt, they'd stay home and sit on their hands or take some cubicle job they can't stand. While it looks like I highly oppose a rule like this being implicated in MLB, there have been a lot of scary things going on when it comes to collisions at home plate, and nine times out of ten it results in a horrendous injury. With that said, I still approve of the close play of sliding into home plate. On top of that, there is also a difference between sliding into home plate and throwing your forearms into someone in a mid-air tackle like you're a Pokemon or some Dragonball Z character. In the case where Buster Posey shattered his ankle in May 2011, that was a case of Marlins player Scott Cousins being reckless. This was pretty reckless too, but this was Hollywood. When it comes to reckless tackles like that, you run the risk of missing home plate, so if that part was banned, I wouldn't mind it so much. The whole wiping it out completely is what baffles me the most. But que sera sera. It has to be done now.

Let's get them all out now, OK?


(For more reading, you can go here.)

Oh, and Merry Christmas, you sillies.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Red Whines: Short-Term Anger, Flippant Fans

Words can't express how reading an article about these kinds of incidents make me feel. It hurts, it angers, it practically makes me lose faith in humanity. Plus, there have been so many similar stories to these before Sunday. Sickening, yes? You'll find out here.

Rivalries. It's in the genes of sports. If you're a fan of a specific team, there has to be one team you absolutely despise in return. For example, if you like the Red Sox, you totally hate the Yankees. If you like the Packers, you totally hate the Bears. If you like the Cowboys or the Penguins, everyone seems to hate you. No matter where you are, there's a blind hatred involved with people rooting for the other team. While there may be respect when it comes to other interest, sports fall into the category of things you should never discuss along with religion and politics. Then again, aren't there a lot of politics involved in the religion that is sports? I digress. In my time of watching and loving sports, I have read many reports of fans fighting in the stands over something extremely stupid which later results in police activity. Good times, I must say. While they often involve flying cups of beer, flying fists, and other flying objects (shoes?), others involve even harsher physical violence. I'm talking about sharp objects. While sharp objects are not permitted inside of stadiums, most of these fights take place outside, and most of them have gruesome results.

Sunday night following the Broncos/Chargers game in Denver, a fight broke out after an alleged near-collision while someone was pulling out of a parking spot. A knife was pulled out and at least three people were stabbed in the process. Luckily, the injuries were not life-threatening.

A parking spot. I could not make this up.

The idea that this is even happening or being brought into conversation is preposterous. Really? Are we thinking short-term again? This is enough to throw the unwritten code of ethics onto the table. While I have seen my share of rival fights in the stands, any idea of going so far as to stabbing someone over a parking lot incident is rather stupid in a sane person's mind. While there is the idea of making a statement, it's also another thing to shut someone up and the inevitable happens. In this case, three (possibly four) people were stabbed in the incident. When we go through a though process, anger tends to cut the whole "thinking things through" part and that's when the bad stuff usually happens. We see it all the time in the ghetto-style neighborhoods when one tussle turns into an unnecessary weapons display. In short, short-term anger leads to lack of long-term planning. One doesn't think of the consequences, and why is that? One wants an immediate solution to an irritating problem. It's not a video game, where the guy is going to respawn at home after a ten-second wait.

This recent story comes on the heels of other national news stories involving fan violence after and even before the games occur. We're not talking one, but at least four or five here. For example, a 24-year-old man was fatally stabbed following a bar fight after a Dodgers/Giants game in late September. While charges were later filed and apologies were made, nothing was healed in the matter; there's a loss of life and a guilty conscience on the man who delivered that deadly blow. It's one thing to incapacitate a guy, but it's another to use a weapon that can end a person's life. Again, short-term anger turns into lack of long-term planning.

I'm not particularly saying this from a woman's perspective, but there's a fine, fine line between being a man and being stupid. There. I said it.

There's more.

I'd like to direct you to this little video that was shot a few months ago after a Cowboys/Chargers game. While alcohol was involved with this incident, again, there is a fine line between showing that you're a man and that you're a total idiot. I'd like to note that this is one of many fan fights you will see on YouTube, and most of them result in law enforcement getting involved. Unfortunately, the only thing that sports organizations can do is enforce the law and practice the correct discretionary measures toward unruly fans through security and ground rules explained in various locations in the vicinity. I feel as if teams and franchise owners almost take some sort of responsibility for these matters because, after all, these fans are rooting for their team and their actions are giving their team bad publicity. Even when it doesn't involve violence, such as when a fan fell to his death at Turner Field in Atlanta in August or at Candlestick Park in San Francisco in September, there is some sort of an "uh oh, what happened here" thought flying around the head.

There is a general understanding that it is human instinct to express the policy of "actions speak louder than words." However, when that instinct kicks in, the "flight or fight response" rears its head and takes over. There's no morals, there's no remorse; it's all about making the statement. Unfortunately, there's the assistance with alcohol and the reason to be angry in a rival showdown going sour. I'd also like to note again that some of the reasons for these altercations are asinine and they make me want to throw my head into my hands asking: "Why? Why are people so stupid? Why do I want to smack them upside the head?" Then we hear that voice in our heads, replying: "[Your name], people are crazy, that's all. This is normal." Life goes on as usual. There are other ways to cope with these bouts of anger, believe me. This has to be the worst wave of fan violence in a very long time, and it doesn't seem to be getting any better. You can blame society all you want; it's just an awful shame that it's at the expense of an exciting sporting event.

(What is it with the Chargers and San Francisco teams making multiple appearances in this article? Sheesh.)


(Here are the articles used as reference in this article. Read if you wish. 1, 2, 3)

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

MMA: Lost in Translation?

It's a year and a half in the making. It finally happened. I had to force this one, and my goodness, it's pretty.

After finishing the last blog post, I had to quickly call my friend Andrew (who has poked his head around on this blog a couple of times) because I had a really good idea. After knowing him for four years, I've learned a lot about him, including his involvement in taekwon-do. When it comes to what he has learned, I wondered what he thought of mainstream MMA sports organizations like UFC. Long ago, he had pondered on whether he wanted to write a post on this topic. Obviously, that never happened. It took a half-hour conversation over Skype to get all of the ideas down. Enjoy and leave a comment if you'd like.

--AZ (Andrew too)

Who Are You To Judge?

I will get this out of the way now: I am not the biggest fan of UFC. While martial arts can be seen as a competitive sport by many, I still see it as an art of personal enrichment and knowledge. Call me old-fashioned. I dare you to.

On a personal note, I've been gone for a month. Have you missed me? I missed me. I've been incredibly busy with other projects, but I haven't forgotten about this baby. Who are you to judge my absence? Honestly!

A month after the fact, UFC 167 is still being seen as one of the most controversial MMA events that had occurred in quite a long time.

On November 16, the UFC Welterweight Title was on the line as Georges St. Pierre was fighting against a favored Johnny Hendricks. While Hendricks held his own for three rounds, the match when the five full rounds and went to the decisions of the judges. In a stunning move, St. Pierre won the fight by split decision, shocking everyone in attendance, including UFC President Dana White. Social media blew up, and it was such a big deal that it was even on the front page of ESPN for all of a day or so. What made the matter even more controversial was the St. Pierre had later announced that he was stepping away from MMA to tend to personal matters. While he had said there would be a rematch, that will remain to be seen. Rather dramatic, don't you think?

Could this judging issue have been avoided? It's rather obvious that people were displeased with the result, and everyone observing the event became armchair judges. It really isn't that difficult to follow along with a match, so you could judge subconsciously and get results right just about every time. As complex as the UFC realm may seem, the rules are relatively simple and just reading them over for a brief minute helps you understand what's going on and how things are run. For example, there are little tidbits that count as fouls and other infractions, and when it comes to earning points, it depends on effective strikes and grapples and the precision of each attack/defense. Simple enough, right? That is where the "10-10, 10-9, 10-8" business comes from.
If you want more information on the judging criteria in UFC, check out the rules here.

After exploring the judgment system in mixed martial arts, it's rather similar to the sport of boxing, in which there isn't a declared winner until the contest is over. Sure, you might get a general idea of who wins the fight based on overall performance in each round, but your opinion might be substantially different from the official judges. That is where we run into the fly hanging around in the ointment. Could we be running into the controversial problem of errant booking and gambling?

Gambling in sports has been a giant pink elephant in the room for centuries. It works like a ninja in most sports, considering how gambling and betting on sports is a major offense in the United States, especially when it involves match fixing. While betting isn't a four-letter word in the sports world, it certainly makes for awkward entertainment and sportsmanship. It becomes even more awkward when the athlete isn't in on the match fixing and they're like: "What just happened?"

There was a book written called The Harder They Fall, and it was later adapted into a film in 1956 starring Humphrey Bogart in his last role before his death the following year. The book and film explored the dark side of match fixings in the world of boxing, and how it tainted what once was a sport of honor and a showcase of fighters with the biggest aspirations and heart. Sixty-plus years after the release of the novel, about sixty since the film, we're experiencing a dark side in real life. Although there hasn't been anything confirmed behind the scenes, you have to admit that something fishy was going on.
[I highly recommend the film, by the way. You will actually see some real-life famous boxers in the film like Max Baer.]

Yes, "All the world's a stage and we are merely players," but the line needs to be drawn when it comes to pure sport and pure entertainment. Mixed martial arts organizations like UFC have been pretty good with that, especially when they adopted a more formal system outside of what they had in the 90's [i.e. dudes fighting in sneakers, for real] and--for the lack of a better term--began showcasing different martial arts styles and lovechildren of said styles. You're probably thinking: "Steph, you're an idiot. This is already entertainment." Okay, hush your face; this isn't the kind of entertainment I'm talking about. In entertainment, I'm thinking of more staged outlets like professional wrestling. While fights are entertaining in boxing and MMA, the fights aren't booked in advance, making each event more of a "watch and see athleticism that has no premeditation attached to it." Does that make more sense now?

When you're a judge for a sport like boxing or MMA, you are put in the hot seat and you need to make sure you are observant in each movement and each attack, especially when it is a close fight. I'm stating the obvious here, but it's a job that needs to be taken seriously, especially when careers [and money] are on the line and they're crucial to keep the credibility of the sport going along. It isn't difficult to get something wrong, but when there is no responsibility claimed in screwing up judgment, things get muddy and all kinds of foggy. Would you rather claim responsibility and admit you got something wrong, or screw up the reputation of the sport that you had once admired and observed.

With that said, you have to admit that seeing the you-know-what hitting the fan at UFC 167 really takes away some form of credibility with the sport, especially when it comes to the honor behind most arts. You could tell it was bad when Dana White was not pleased with the aftermath. It can't be helped when controversy involving poor decisions leads to poor press. This is especially true when it comes to the judges for each event and what they're looking for in each fight. Is favoritism involved? Was something done under the table? I could be thinking into it too much, but those are just some things that can't helped but be considered when you see a screwy finish to a fight that looked like it had a decisive winner.

With UFC 168 coming around in less than three weeks, we're going to see some animosity with the crowd and the judges will be n deep water until things start moving along smoothly. Let's not muddy the waters anymore now, okey dokey?


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The NFL Midseason Slant for 2013-2014 - Meet 'Em At The Pass!

Ah, midway through Slant season. I love writing these up. It keeps me in form.

"Head 'em off at the pass?! I HATE THAT CLICHE!"
If you never saw Blazing Saddles, you should. It's a fantastic movie, and I actually got someone to like it once.

We've seen a lot of trades, changes, and fresh looks in the NFL this offseason. Change is a good thing. Sometimes, you'll see some controversy and a lot of jokes thrown in one's way; however, that comes with the territory.

The one thing I've noticed about these standings is that I felt like I just looked over an NBA season--there are teams in the league that are really, really good, and then there are teams that are really, REALLY terrible. Those thoughts aside, let's take a brief look at each NFL team and see what's going right and going wrong with them.

You ready to go?



East Division

New England Patriots (7-2) - We've come to expect this season in and season out. As the old saying goes: "You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours." Each side of the ball has kicked in and led to some pretty close victories. While they haven't faced the toughest of competitors in the first half, things should be expected to kick up in the coming weeks. This won't be an cakewalk for the Pats, even though they look as formidable as ever.
New York Jets (5-4) - For a rookie season, Geno Smith isn't doing too badly. That's a pretty good sign, considering how much the fans desperately wanted a change in the QB position. Amid their struggles and the plethora of injuries that have affected them, their defense is helping them win games, and that isn't a terrible thing. I just hate seeing Jets fans like Hank Azaria on Twitter saying something like "I hate when they win--it gives Jets fans hope." It seems like everyone's expecting the worst this second half; don't be silly, you people! This second half looks pretty good!
[Fun fact: I said "butt fumble" to end an argument over whether Alex Smith was better than Mark Sanchez at a Madden NFL 25 midnight release. I think I made my point that night.]
Miami Dolphins (4-4) - Things have taken a steep drop in certain departments for the Dolphins this season. Tannehill hasn't been having an easy time in the pocket. While they've been scoring, the ball-handling hasn't been all that great, and possessions are suffering a bit. There may be some looming problems within the staff, so things could be a little rocky and bleed onto the field in the coming weeks.
[I'll talk about Incognito at some point. Not right now.]
Buffalo Bills (3-6) - The more and more I do these Slants, the more and more I feel for these guys. Injuries and heartbreaking losses have been the forte for these guys. Even though the offense looks pretty good statistically, they've had a really tough first half with some of the stronger offensive lineups. Things look a little easier down the stretch, but truthfully, this is when the offense is going to get their ultimate test.

North Division

Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) - The AFC North has officially been flipped upside-down, and seeing the Bengals up top looks pretty cool. Andy Dalton is doing extremely well with what he's been given, and I like what the defense has to offer; they're the top 10 in just about every category in the whole league. With a well-deserved Bye coming toward the end, they should get just enough rest to make a final push in the playoffs. That is pretty nice to see.
Cleveland Browns (4-5) - Brandon Weeden is a scrappy quarterback, but this isn't the strongest team I have ever seen. Don't get me wrong--the defense looks pretty promising, but there are still a lot of things that have to be learned, and Weeden doesn't look like the kind of guy that is capable of learning tricks at this stage. They say defense wins games, but we need to have some cooperation on both points.
Baltimore Ravens (3-5) - With the way things have been going for these guys, I pretty much forgot that they won the Super Bowl in February. The fact that they haven't played a lot at home may have made a slight difference, but Flacco and company are a shade of what they were a few months ago. Sure, there have been a lot of personnel changes in the offseason, but excuses are excuses, if you know what I mean. Let's hope the home-field advantage helps their cause with everything else going on in this second half.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6) - What on Earth happened here? I knew the team looked shaky from the start, but I had no idea it was going to be this bad. While Roethlisberger looks as good as he usually does, everything else looks like a train wreck, including the defense--and you know that's bad if the defense looks like dung. Numerous injury woes, including ones to the defense, is going to take a toll considering the kind of teams they will be facing in the second half of the season.
[I think it's time to put your Terrible Towel away, Andrew. You're done.]

South Division

Indianapolis Colts (6-2) - While the Colts like to rack up the points, the defense has their times of keeping the bargain up with holding the opposition down as well. The Luck/Wayne combo has some pretty sweet moves on the field, and while the defense gives up a bit of yardage at times, they come in the clutch. We've got a delicate balance here, so let's hope that we see some consistency in the second half with an easier schedule in tow.
Tennessee Titans (4-4) - We've seen a bit of a skid in October from these guys, but should we fear? Not necessarily. Their defense might see some challenges soon enough, but we need to start seeing some work from the offense in order to make a run toward anything. Especially since the defense has had some scares in the injury department, we're going to need some help on the other side.
Houston Texans (2-6) - They've lost six straight. That should explain enough here. Plus, the loss of Matt Schaub has caused the offense to do some awkward things, although Case Keenum has been making an effort to make a decent impact. The Texans defense doesn't look nearly as strong as they once did, as they're giving up points left and right. They had some grit last season; that was the past. It's time for some healing in this squad.
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8) - Just like another team in the NFC (who we'll get to later), we saw this coming. There hasn't been many promising things coming out of this team. It's a party when they score more than 14 points, but that's usually when the defense falls asleep, and the scoring doesn't happen very often, yadda yadda yadda. It's only going to be an uphill struggle for these guys.

West Division

Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) - I normally don't do this, but I'm doing this now.... LOL ... There. New management means shockers all-around. This team has some flaws, yes indeed, but they do some crazy theatrics to get them on top by the end of each game. While they'll be away from home for most of the second half, all eyes will be on them to see whether holes are going to be seen in this team. Teamwork among either side of the ball is going to be important for them.
Denver Broncos (7-1) - You know things are going down when Peyton Manning is on fire. You saw that from the start in Week 1. These guys just score a lot of flippin' points, and it is usually enough considering that there are times when the Broncos' defense doesn't always show up to the game. However, that's the least of their worries. If the offense holds up, this team will not be able to do any wrong come January.
San Diego Chargers (4-4) - Win, loss, win, loss. We like to flip-flop here. Philip Rivers has been turning it up as of late; however, the record isn't really evident of that, as the defensive line and special teams haven't been holding up very well. The Bolts back at home should help, especially since inconsistency exists with the crew, and they're going to have some pretty intense competition going on in the second half.
Oakland Raiders (3-5) - While this team isn't having any massive problems, injuries and other freak accidents have reared their ugly head in the black hole land. One of the stronger points of this team is their running game, as both Rashad Jennings and Terrell Pryor are putting on great displays each week. Too bad the receivers can't follow suit with that. On the other hand, the defense is doing what they can to back their woes up on the receiving end.


East Division

Dallas Cowboys (5-4) - The 'Boys looked rather shaky in the first two weeks, but things have gotten back into form as of late. I don't really dig their defense all that much, but it has held up enough for first place glory in the NFC East. Hey Tony Romo, looking good there, bro. Hey injury list, looking flippin' filled there, bro. With a second half schedule that's as two-faced as Two-Face himself, we could see a lot of different sides of the Cowboys staff within the next two months.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) - Flip-flopping quarterbacks and a fresh face as a head coach has been the rage in Philly, but this team hasn't been consistent. The defense has had a lot of issues over the past couple of weeks, and copious amounts of injuries haven't been helping much at all. However, Nick Foles' latest display in Oakland has been a huge boost in morale. The biggest question lies here: are they going to start winning at home? If they can, a big change could be coming soon.
Washington Redskins (3-5) - The duo of Alfred Morris and the bionic RGIII has shown some fire in the first half, but nothing stands out on the other side of the ball. Being near the bottom of the barrel in points allowed, efforts need to be made to keep the offense from working too hard. They've been working hard enough as of late, winning three of the last five games, but more has to be done with a rougher schedule up ahead.
New York Giants (2-6) - They were the laughingstock of the NFC East up until two weeks ago. Eli Manning has had a pretty rotten run so far, and slowly but surely things are looking a little better for him. Recently coming off of a Bye week, they're hoping to ride momentum from their previous two wins. Is it going to keep Manning from turning the ball over? Let's hope so. They could really use it after the rotten luck the whole team has had this first half.

North Division

[Oh boy, I'm dealing with another three-way tie here.]
Detroit Lions (5-3) - Matt Stafford has been having a great year so far (better than usual), and although the defense isn't as fearful as it was last year, it has been enough to keep Lions fans hungry for a playoff spot. Fresh from a Bye week, we should see some more offensive explosions in this second half. Heheh--Megatron....explosions.
Chicago Bears (5-3) - 'Da Bears' special teams is highly underrated. Helping the offense along with points, things have been keeping up relatively well this season. On the other side of the coin, the defense doesn't look too good at all. Things are getting a little too close in games, and there could be issues if there aren't any major executive decisions made by coaching or an unsung hero on the field. A lot of divisional matches will be coming up with them. Get ready for a roller coaster ride.
Green Bay Packers (5-3) - Things may look good standings-wise, but with Aaron Rodgers out with an injury for a few weeks, this could test the rest of the offense. Aside from last week's hiccup in Chicago, the Packs have had a tough time dealing with some formidable defensive forces, showing a bit of vulnerability on the offensive side. Going back to Rodgers' injury, things could get ugly really fast unless Seneca Wallace can help the team out, unless the defense has something better in mind...
Minnesota Vikings (1-7) - Getting this out of the way now: From an outsider's view, Adrian Peterson is the only thing going right with the Vikings. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, their defense is the pits and it is in desperate need of repair. Numerous injuries all around the team have them in shambles as well. Christian Ponder might have to question his ability as a quarterback at this point, because things do not look good for this team in the offensive department from here on out.

South Division

New Orleans Saints (6-2) - Gotta love how Drew Brees throws for 300+ yards almost every single game. Considering how there are many divisional matchups with weaker defenses (aside from Carolina), we could be seeing more fireworks from the offense and an eventual playoff berth. What's that? You wanted to hear about the defense too? WHO DAT. They're just as scary-looking! The upset losses have been a hiccup, but we're looking at a very strong team here.
Carolina Panthers (5-3) - Well, this is refreshing. It seems like Cam Newton is finding his stride in this offense, and the defense is looking better than it has in years' past. In fact, they're second in the NFL in points allowed and rush yardage allowed. That's incredibly strong, and it's going to come in handy with a second half filled with strong offensive forces like the Saints and Patriots. I'm looking forward to seeing how they hold up. It could determine their worth in January.
Atlanta Falcons (2-6) - Injuries are crippling this team, and it is showing. We've seen a lot of woes on the defensive end, it it has been eating the Falcons' offense alive. Even though Matt Ryan has been having great stats in passing yards, it hasn't been enough to give them any effective wins. With some upcoming returns such as wide receiver Roddy White, we're hoping to see some normalcy in the team in the second half.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-8) - If you were wondering who that other team was that I was referring to above, here you are. We've had a lot of lesser-known names on this team, and truthfully, it's been hurting them. We've had some strong showings from the offense, but it doesn't seem like there is any good chemistry among anyone else on the squad. They have an easy-looking schedule in the second half, but that doesn't really mean much with the displays they have shown so far.

West Division

Seattle Seahawks (8-1) - This team is fun to watch. Their defense is fantastic, and Marshawn Lynch gets better and better with each season. We've seen some close games with these guys, but if they stay healthy and keep up their strong forts in the O-and D-Lines, we're going to have a super-strong playoff contender. My only concern is to see a more well-rounded offense. Here's looking at you, Russ.
San Francisco 49ers (6-2) - In his first full season as starting QB, Colin Kaepernick isn't doing too badly. Thing is, we're seeing a bit of a trend: run the ball all the way or wait until third down, and then try a pass play. It's simple. We're seeing a Mike Vick-like trend from the Niners' offense, while the defense has been holding down the opposition. This isn't a bad thing. However, it might not be enough for a Wild Card spot. More faith in the pass means better results.
Arizona Cardinals (4-4) - While a Carson Palmer-led offense looks promising, it doesn't look nearly as consistent as the Cards' defense. Aside from Week 1, we've seen victories from lesser-deserving teams, and that isn't much of a good thing. Once they start shocking the stronger teams, we could be talking about a spoiler in this spot.
St. Louis Rams (3-6) - These guys looked pretty good at the start and then they hit this speed bump and everything exploded in a cartoon fashion. An injury-ridden offense has been the catalyst for this, and numerous divisional matches could be a recipe for disappointment for Rams fans. Mr. Bradford, you're doing all you can. Mr. Jeff Fisher, coaching might be a little different from running a front office. Time to go back to 1999 brain mode.

Ah, now that was fun. The next two months should be an interesting bum rush of football and divisional rivalries. Hopefully any controversies and issues going on right now will cease, because truthfully, all I wanna see is some football.

All the best to y'all, and see you in January.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Stress Killer

While writing up the NFL Midseason Slant, I read on Twitter that Houston Texans' coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field and was taken off by stretcher. For the second time in a few days, a football coach is dealing with a serious health issue, the first being John Fox of the Denver Broncos. It's time for a side-quest, ladies and gentlemen. Achievement hunting = fun.

When you aren't the one in charge, you tend to see leaders as strong figures that handle the best and worst of people. You find yourself going: "Man, these guys are tough as nails," or "How do they keep going like this?" Beneath the facade of their leadership skills and their grit is something a little more serious--their health. While everything on the exterior seems unwavering, the interior may waver with the ebb and flow of the usual leadership duties. It's a known fact that people in charge often face the most amounts of stress and pressure. While the effects of stress may show in news reports and in press conferences, voice and outward appearance may not tell the whole story.

This past week, Denver Broncos' head coach John Fox was hospitalized for having heart attack-like symptoms. It has been announced that he will be undergoing an aortic valve replacement. Sunday night, Houston Texans' head coach Gary Kubiak collapsed on the field as he and his team were leaving the field at halftime. While it hasn't been announced that he had a similar issue, it has been stated that he was taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure.

When you hear these two reports, you tend to question how this all happens. They seem like relatively healthy guys, right? They don't seem to have any openly-known health problems. So what could be the issue? Let's put things into perspective here: they're head coaches for professional football teams. Their teams have been having issues on and off the field. They're stressed. Stress can hurt the insides and could actually cause heart problems. While I may be jumping to conclusions, it seems rather strange to have two cases like this happen in such a short spurt of time. The spotlight has been on the athletes for a very long time. It might be time to shift it to the coaches and officials. Why? Their jobs are stressful. Their jobs are giving them serious injuries on the inside.

What is this stress I'm talking about? I'll tell you about it. I survived college. I should know this business. Let's check the medical journal of Dr. AZ...
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. In fact, I am extremely clumsy with sharp objects.
Stress can be explained in several different ways. Simply put, it's any kind of pain or pressure placed upon an object. Stress can affect anything biologically, physiologically, and psychologically. It's like that horrible video game boss that takes fifty different forms and it gets stronger once you get it to a quarter health. Basic symptoms of stress include irritability, inability to sleep, mood swings, appetite changes, troubles with digestion, and changes in blood pressure. Stress, biologically and psychologically, can produce adrenaline or the "fight or flight" response in the brain. Yes, highly stressful times could either make you crash or have the capability to lift a car (dead serious). While adrenaline rushes can be beneficial at times, other chemicals produced by stress could disrupt bodily functions and adversely affect the immune and nervous systems.

When a coach handles issues with teammates or even the media, there is some amount of stress that comes with the territory. How the coach approaches it could determine the amount of stress that comes with it. Age and experience may be a good thing here, but you also have the problem of these external stimuli being overbearing to unnecessary proportions.

Calling a game isn't an easy job, either. When you have a professional game in your hands, no matter how good you are at your job, there is lots of stress. While the best of them handle it well, high-pressure situations take it's toll when least expected. When you have a lack of diet and exercise along with these stressful environments, you have a recipe for disaster at the front door.

In fact, MLB umpire Wally Bell, aged 48, died of an apparent heart attack in mid-October. His last appearance was working the NLDS series between the Pittsburgh Pirates and St. Louis Cardinals. With that said, he was the first active MLB umpire to die since the mid-1960's. At the age of 34 in 1999, he underwent quintuple bypass surgery to clear two fully-blocked arteries among other blockages, and returned three months later to officiate baseball games. While he continued his career after the fact, it is a tragedy to hear about a case such as his. He fought back after having severe heart trouble in his early 30's, and nearly fifteen years later he passes from a similar issue.

I could be making a mountain out of a molehill, but we've had two scares and a death in the American sports realm involving people in sports who weren't athletes. Do we have a legitimate problem here? Yes. I think we do. Although coaches and officials may have a decent diet with some exercise thrown in from time to time, stress can always throw a monkey wrench into your life.

Stress kills, ladies and gentlemen. I don't think that's a strange thing to point out.

I'm going to suggest this. What I say might not have a huge amount of weight in it, but it should be considered, as we've had a problem in the "it comes in threes" category. It should become a standard to have coaching staffs and officials take stress tests and get blood work done to check their overall physical health during the season. If this happens, this could actually cut down on any signs of future health problems, such as heart attack, stroke, or even panic/anxiety attacks. In Wally Bell's earlier case in '99, he might have been able to find his problem sooner and may not have had as major of a surgery as he did. While you might not always be able to pinpoint a heart attack or stroke, it can be avoided by certain dietary/medicinal regimens. It's 2013. I'm pretty sure we can cut down on major health risks by now. It can be done.

Aside from guys like Mike Tomlin (head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers) and the hiring of Brad Ausmus as new head coach of the Detroit Tigers, you will very rarely find a head coach that is under the age of 45. You don't often realize that you have some--excuse the expression--really old fogies running these teams. When a team is struggling, management gets rather stressful. If one cares enough, that coach will trudge through six-foot deep mud during a torrential downpour to get the team out of a rut, and it's going to hurt. Heck, some of the "younger guys" look like old men due to the effects of stress. We have some guys who have found the fountain of youth (i.e. Philadelphia Eagles' Chip Kelly is 49...and...yeah...), but's what on the inside that counts here.

I'll admit it: While concussions, lower body injuries, and PED usage in athletes are major issues at hand, we tend to throw the health concerns of other people on the back burner. We tend to stop thinking about the other people involved in the sport, such as coaches, staff members, and officials. Their jobs aren't exactly a cakewalk either. While they aren't busting themselves out on the field physically, the stress they undergo does more damage than one may think. I hate reading about heart attacks and strokes, I really do. If anything, I'd like to read less about it and see sports organizations put more focus on the leaders and officials. We've done so much for the players; let's start seeing more done for the unsung heroes. They need attention too, you know.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Batmen: Bearded Origins

Men fascinate me. The whole testosterone/manliness/hair thing is awkward. Don't get me wrong, I love growing out my hair and styling bangs and stuff...but the whole beard thing is weird. We women don't grow out our leg hair as a means of rallying. I'm just saying.

Beards. They come in many shapes and sizes. They come in different colors, lengths, thickness, and volumes. In olden days they were a sign of royalty, wisdom, virility, and also a sign that the man was hitched. Today, they can either be a sign of laziness, a need to keep the face warm in winter, and a new one: supporting a team. Ten years ago, it was a custom to have a team dye their hair to rally their team to the playoffs. It wouldn't be surprising to see key players on a team with their hair dyed blonde in support. Let's get real, here--that was really cheesy and was ten years too late considering the fact that we had the hair-frosting trends set in the 1990's. Today, the easiest (and healthiest) way to represent a team is to, well... "let their hair down."

The only thing I knew before this trend of any man supporting a cause by trimming their facial hair is for "Mo-vember," done every November to promote awareness for prostate cancer. In the sports world, athletes and male fans have insisted on going the whole nine and growing out a ZZ Top-styled beard in lieu of their favorite team.

For example, as you can see here, Dodgers pitcher Brian Wilson is rocking the Captain Lou Albano look. If you don't know who Capt. Lou is--which honestly determines how old you are--you can call it the Michael Gambon's Dumbledore look.
How does he sleep with that thing?
If you've been following the MLB Postseason, you can see that Brian Wilson isn't the only one sporting a beard. In fact, more than half of the Boston Red Sox are sporting a beard. It has gone so crazy that some of them have been growing and grooming them since the beginning of the season and they've created nicknames for some of the beards, like "The Serial Killer."

Nicknames. For their beards. Like they were their own children or something.

Moving right along...
The team that plays together, stays together. With that said, is this phenomenon another sign of superstition, or is it really a beckoning call to summon every defense and bulldoze the opposition?

Three years ago, I wrote about how superstitions are the religious glue that make the sports realm a tangible universe that fans and media outlets can portal themselves to. Different mantras and rituals exist in this mystical land. Heck, Bud Light had a whole advertising campaign built around it. Beard-growing has slowly, but surely become a growing (no pun intended) trend in sports over the past year or two. In fact, you could start to argue that it began a little earlier than that with numerous NFL players growing out their locks a-la Clay Matthews or Troy Polamalu. However, the beard sported by Brian Wilson himself during the San Francisco Giants' 2010 MLB Postseason run brought the "fear the beard" phase to the forefront, leading other fans and baseball players to sport the same look. While some considered it a "fashion statement," it almost had the same significance as a rally hat in the ninth inning or sporting a scarf on match day in soccer, but all day, every day.

Superstitions aside, this seems more like a unifying practice instead of a "if I shave, they're going to lose," kind of deal. Doing a collective action such as growing out beards shows a sense of unity among teammates and the fans. This is a very good sign. It reflects team chemistry and their passion to keep going. After all, if the fans are following suit, and you'd wanna help them out too, right?  Boston, normally called "Beantown" throughout the nation, has been referring to themselves as "Beardtown" throughout the Red Sox' playoff run. Fans are showing up to the stadiums wearing Father Time hairy beards and Santa beards in support, and with the weather getting cold, it's certainly keeping those fans warm with passion and excitement. [Good thing Halloween is coming up, eh?] Trends may come and go, but if there's any way to win over new audiences and grab more love and attention, bonding together and looking like a uniformed team is the way to go. Beards are a bit strange, I'll admit that, but if you've been watching the Red Sox in the playoffs, you can see a lot of the die-hard fans cheering on their team in the same way the team is displaying themselves on the field. In the case of rally towels...well, they're an added boost of momentum.

Can I grow a beard? No. However, I personally know people who have for different reasons involving sports. While it might seem strange to me, there are bound to be other people out there like you that do the same thing for the same cause in other ways. Thing is, you just have to make sure it doesn't get out of hand and your boss or your wife comes in with shears. It's a physical badge of fandom, and men (and women with fake ones) wear them loud and proud if their team is relying on their momentum.

I'm just going to feel bad for you if your team loses and then you have to shave the whole thing off. That is going to take a while, and it's probably going to hurt.

(Sucks to be you...)


Friday, October 11, 2013

The Struggle for Attention

When you're the middle child, you often find yourself struggling for attention and fight to get the attention in any way possible. This is for you guys out there. (points) (puts on aviators and strums guitar) As a soccer fan, it's time to speak up.

With the mainstream "big four" (MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL) touting their successes all over North America, other sports are struggling to gain their attention by other outside fanbases. For example, there are circles out there in North America that are die-hard fans of women's basketball, lacrosse, and softball. There is another circle that is bigger than these three combined, but still cannot break through to the big time no matter what goes on. I'm talking about Major League Soccer. Founded 18 years ago, this league has been through numerous highs and lows and has now become an outlet for older athletes to find refuge in the sports they absolutely love to play.

Does this mean that their perseverance gives them recognition on the big North American Sports Stage? Oh heck no. Would you like an example? I'll give you one:

Philadelphia is well-known for being a sports city with a harsh reputation. Recently, the Philadelphia Flyers fired head coach Peter Laviolette, and mainstream media outlets claimed that Eagles' head coach Chip Kelly, hired in the beginning of 2013, was now the longest-tenured head coach in Philadelphia sports. This actually angered a lot of Philadelphia Union fans, even grabbing the attention of head coach John Hackworth. Hackworth, rising to his position in mid-2012, was asked about this mainstream statement in a press conference held a few days after the news broke. He stated: “I think it’s incredible that in this day and age, in the world we live in, with how popular our sport is, that in a city that says that it is such a sports town, to say that, ‘Eh, it doesn’t count as one of the top professional sports.’ I think that’s crazy” (CBS Philly). Even when Freddy Adu was a member of the Union, people didn't care. I don't even think they'd care if David Beckham came out of retirement and played for them. That is how many blind eyes are turned toward soccer in various regions. You can blame the media all you want, but with the perennial status of baseball and basketball and the high-octane violence factor of hockey and American football, soccer often gets pushed out in favor of the other four. Why? It is often perceived by the non-informed North American that it's a "high-class sport" filled with over-the-top injury fakers and that, simply put, it isn't a real sport. From a personal standpoint, I can't begin to tell you how many times I've heard both of those statements used in an argument as to why soccer couldn't survive in North American culture.

Major League Soccer has had many rough patches in the 20 years its been around, and most of it has revolved around their performance in the previous FIFA World Cup Tournaments. Fortunately, they've had the support from businesses and other endorsements to keep them afloat. On the other hand, the women haven't been so fortunate. It's sad, but the story of the 1999 US Women's team died almost as quickly as they rose. Sure, they had a run with a soccer league (the WUSA) but that ceased in 2003. With the 2004 and 2008 Olympic runs came the WPS, and that fell apart within a few years. They won the gold medal in the 2012 Olympics, and a new league, the National Women's Soccer League, was born. In fact, they just recently concluded their inaugural season. This gain by the women's team has also been seen as a huge gain for the US Men's team in years past. In 2002, they had an impressive World Cup run that led them to the Quarterfinal match, and that helped the MLS' cause after losing a few teams a few years prior. Their recent successes has also garnered attention from outside fans and gives the option for these outsiders to check out other leagues such as MLS.

Like other smaller-scale sports, soccer falls victim to a restricted fanbase. It isn't like the marketing and advertising is poor, but the only audience comes from the people who either A - grew up playing the sport in a recreational league, or B - grew up in the culture itself. Again, from a personal standpoint, I started playing soccer when I was about seven, and my interest in the sport spiked after watching the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final. After watching other leagues, I was immersed in the sport and learned to appreciate it more. Some people don't have the time nor the care to do the same. It can be a huge problem, especially when match day falls on a Sunday, which is when 90% of NFL games are played. Currently, there's the issue of the MLS season running into competition from the other three major leagues during the spring months (the typical MLS season and playoff schedule runs from March through November). If the MLS schedule were to change to align with the European leagues--August through May--You run into all four sports in one swift burst, regardless of whether it's the regular season or not. You either stick to what you know or get judged for doing otherwise. It's a normal part of society, ladies and gentlemen.

Another problem that could rise from this is the overall level of MLS compared to leagues in South America and in Europe. It's not like this is a pee-wee league compared to a league like the British Premier League [it sort of is, but let's roll with the punches here], but the sport is taken more seriously and is instilled in players at a very young age. Just as there are mini camps for baseball and football in North America, there are long-term camps and facilities that exist for teams in England and in Spain. These men and women are taught the mechanics and are raised by organizations to play for their squads one day and show elite talent through the years. We, the people of the United States, read that and think that is the craziest thing to ever exist. It almost comes off as inhumane. Truth be told, it's an art out there; it's treated like dance or gymnastics or music. You have to eat, drink, breathe, and sleep the sport. While I'm not saying that no sport is taken seriously here, sports aren't seen as attainable a career by American society because it takes more effort and it might have to begin at a younger age as opposed to starting a trade in college and building off of that. Admit it, the sports industry in the United States is heavily hit-and-miss, and you have to be in the right place at the right time (and HEALTHY) to hit it off somewhere. We're in a survival of the fittest culture as opposed to a youth enrichment culture.

When I think of how MLS is treated as opposed to the "big four," I think of Mean Girls.

MLS seems out of place when it comes to competing against the other major sports, especially since it is more of a tradition-based sport. In short, soccer can be considered a completely different entity and might be a bit overwhelming to outsiders that never gave the sport a chance as a youth or at any other crucial point in life. You cannot truly persuade someone to accept a sport; they have to walk into it themselves and decide whether soccer has a chance of being a major sport in North America. Of course, it doesn't help matters when the person is completely turned off to even watching the sport or even bothering to give it a chance. Such is life.

With that said, MLS certainly has the credentials to be the diamond in the rough in North America, and with some additional support from various soccer programs, we could have a force to be reckoned with when it comes to International play. Wouldn't it be nice to be fearsome in more than one or two sports?


Many thanks to Brian Barrish from The Soccer Desk for fact-checking.
Go check out the site!

Monday, September 30, 2013

The MLB Postseason Slant for 2013 - The Time Is NOW

I love how I had to wait for the American League Wild Card Playoff-Playoff to pan out. I don't like this eleventh hour business, but que sera sera. It's time for October. It's the best month of the year. It is because I said so.

Oh look, I just quoted John Cena.
And I probably just lost a bunch of readers.
Later, fools.



This season went by incredibly fast. Well, that is the season minus the last two weeks of it. Considering that there have been numerous retirement announcements from Vladimir Guerrero, Andy Pettitte, and Todd Helton, eyes have been getting pretty teary around here. All tear-ridden goodbyes aside, things have gotten pretty exciting all around the league. Races have been tight, especially the Wild Card races. It's so tight that I'm going extremely late with this post. Such is life, right?

We ready for another October blitz? The time is now, my friends.
(You can't see me.)

National League Contenders

Atlanta Braves (96-66) - After a shaky first half, and having critics slam them for not being able to capitalize with guys on base, they've shut mouths up relatively quickly. Younger guys are moving up in the ranks, and guys like Freddie Freeman keep the offense trucking along. I don't know what happened to those Upton boys though. If we're going to see these guys make it to the end, they need to keep hot and use the same formula that got them out of the nebula of confusion in the beginning months.

St. Louis Cardinals (97-65) - While it didn't look like these guys had it all the way for a little while, the Cards have been known to turn it up in the second half over the past few years. The pitching looks as great as it has been in times past. Everything just seems to click with this team, and as usual, they've been here before and can be considered a huge threat. We've got some MVP-like candidates on this team, and it's going to take everything they have to keep the fire in October.

Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70) - Remember when they were dwelling in the basement after the first half? Then they realized they had the largest payroll in the National League and were like: "Oh, we should be earning this money" and they ended up going 42-8 over a 50-game stretch. I know. It was insane. I watched a lot of it. Yasiel Puig has become an overnight sensation, and Clayton Kershaw is one of the most dominant pitching forces in MLB. Everyone else follows suit.
No swimming pools here, boys.

[Wild Card] Pittsburgh Pirates (94-68) - Whoaaaaaaaa. After 20 years, these guys are back, and I won't lie, they're looking pretty darn good. The pitching staff is one of the strongest in the league, and they've picked up the pace when the offense would stumble. Behind MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, their one-game playoff against their NL Central rival should be an exciting one.

[Wild Card 2] Cincinnati Reds (90-72) - As you can tell, the NL Central is always red-hot, no pun intended.  That has mostly been attributed to their consistent pitching staffs, especially from the Reds' bullpen. Expect a massive duel of the forts against the Bucs. Legends will be made in the lineup that night. We'll see if Joey Votto can lead along.

American League Contenders

Boston Red Sox (97-65) - These guys are in it and the Yankees aren't. It's like atoms were split. Speaking of atoms, there are a lot of guys that have built this team up to be a total powerhouse, and they've been doing extremely well in fending off the opposition. The team average is tops in all of MLB, and the pitching is one of the most efficient out of the AL East contenders. Is it time to ship up to Boston this year? Building up the team like atoms are going to be key, as no man is an island in Beantown.

Detroit Tigers (93-69) - If you're looking at the team at face-value, you wouldn't be shocked. They've been doing the right things throughout the season. Their hitting is the best in the AL and they're absolutely ferocious as a staff in hitting and pitching with Miggy, Prince, and Torii at the plate, and Justin, Anibal, and Max at the mound. This team might not look extremely scary by record, but mother of pearl, they totally are. Fear these guys.

Oakland Athletics (96-66) - Are we getting a Moneyball: Round 2 this year? While the team looks slightly different than it did last year, you will see that different players pull through for the staff each night. Their pitching is especially effective, and it will make a difference against the other Division-winning teams. Bartolo Colon is a total beast, and Andrew Griffin is right behind him. Let's hope that the offense can stay strong.

[Wild Card] Cleveland Indians (92-70) - It's pretty nice to see these guys back in October again. After a few seasons of harsh animosity, we have a strong pitching staff and a clutch-at-times lineup. Will this be enough after a one-game playoff? The Rays may be riding on momentum based on their pre-playoff game, so the Wahoos have to want this in order to make it to the next level. They might not have the best of stats compared to the other contenders, but they have the smarts and the tools to turn it on.

[Wild Card 2] Tampa Bay Rays (91-71) - Nice show in the playoff-playoff, eh? These guys have a nice mix of youth and veterans that can aid each other in working out a strong playoff run. The one advantage these guys have is that they have the momentum from playing the Rangers and doing extremely well. We've seen this before. I'd like to see them make some fireworks in a playoff series.

Individual Winners

NL MVP - Andrew McCutchen (Pittsburgh Pirates) - He's always been toward the top in stats, and this has definitely been his year to shine. I would be severely shocked if he didn't get this one.
Next Best Choice: Yadier Molina (St. Louis Cardinals)

NL Cy Young - Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers) - This guy is a tank. It should tell you something if his ERA is under 2.00. That is all.
Next Best Choice: Adam Carpenter (St. Louis Cardinals)

NL Rookie of the Year - Yasiel Puig (Los Angeles Dodgers) - I'm going down the beaten path this year, but he adjusted incredibly well to his team and was a catalyst for wins at times. Sounds like a winner here.
Next Best Choice: Jose Fernandez (Miami Marlins)

AL MVP - Mike Trout (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) - In his sophomore season, he's been breaking faces, records, and making people like me feel like I'm doing nothing with my life. Here's to hoping he doesn't fall apart after this.
Next Best Choice: Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers)

AL Cy Young - Max Scherzer (Detroit Tigers) - I didn't choose this strictly on wins. He has been consistent all season and kept his cool throughout. His stats are also boasting CY numbers.
Next Best Choice: Yu Darvish (Texas Rangers)

AL Rookie of the Year - Wil Myers (Tampa Bay Rays) - He's turned it on as of late and his proving his worth under pressure. Especially with Tampa Bay's push for the postseason, that should account for something.
Next Best Choice: Chris Archer (Tampa Bay Rays)


While I'm sad that another baseball season is over, October is a huge cherry on top and gives the MLB season a big sendoff. Let's hope for some of that magic to come back all over again.


Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Red Whines: Hits and Complete Misses

Don't get me wrong, I'm a believer in the direction the NFL is taking when it comes to concussions, but what I saw and heard during the preseason and Week 1 when it came to lower hits is absolutely ridiculous. It's time to whine.

The NFL season officially kicked off on Thursday night and came in with a bang. The games on Sunday and Monday also went off without a hitch. One thing that may have caught your eye this past weekend is the lack of helmet-to-helmet contact against opposing players. While fights did break out in various games, you didn't see anything substantial in head injuries unless it was a freak collision between two teammates making a sandwich of another player. The more common sight in tackles and take-downs happened below the belt. While it was safer on the heads of players, it was noticed in preseason that other injuries were flowing from these lower hits.

During preseason, numerous offensive players were going down with leg injuries including ankle sprains and torn knee ligaments. While it is common to see some players go down early due to the process of conditioning and getting back in the grind going slower than usual, the frequency of lower-body injuries is starting to scare teams and analysts. One noted lower-body hit that occurred on Sunday wasn't clean, but the rest that led to the freak injuries were regarded as clean and not penalties. Over the past several days, football analysts have been putting their thoughts out over the airwaves and they've been quite vocal over the excessive lower-body hits and how players may be defenseless in these acts.

Those opinions are theirs. I can't judge the analysts on these hits. My upcoming opinions shouldn't be over-judged either.

Amid this turmoil, what upsets me is the mentality that some of the players have about where the hits happen and how long they have to sit out for their injuries. Players would rather get concussed and sit out for a week than getting a knee or an ankle injury and be out for a month or two.
^This is me.^
Let us begin to discuss how stupid that philosophy is. No, it shouldn't have to be discussed. The stupidity of that should just be acknowledged.

A concussion isn't your average injury. If you have never received one yourself, you don't realize how lousy and horrible that single week is. You're dealing with a brain injury, and those effects will stick around with you for life in small ways. Multiple ones will definitely screw you up. Heck, read the posts I've written about the various matters and get educated. [Article 1, Article 2] It's one thing to be "manly" and tough, but human health is more important in the long run than a paycheck. Sure, the taxes are going to kill in the future, but in my opinion, I'd much rather be poor than have a corroded brain and having memory/cognition problems.

But wait, there's more poker face-induced business. The NFL has been looking into tackles around the knee area and possibly thinking of a ban on lower hits.
You can read that article here.

Any less hits and we're going to call the NFL a two-hand-touch league. Lower-body hits and injuries happen in hockey and sometimes in soccer too. As hard-hitting as football is, it's almost expected to see someone get hurt. No man is invincible. When the adrenaline in pumping and you're looking to take a player to the ground, you don't really have the time to think of where you're hitting him. Sometimes, the mid-body hits (like the ribs) doesn't get the guy down, and aiming low is the best bet to ground him. There's a difference between being careful with your athletes and being overprotective. The fans go for the hard hits, and the athletes want to earn their paycheck and do whatever they can to win. You can't take all the hits away from them. While the head hits are understandable, the lower shots are a bit of a stretch.

We might as well be watching the games here if that were to happen.

I'll admit it: this is a really, really dumb issue that needed to be ripped apart. Let's not take the game away completely, fellas. The point of football is to be physical and get the job done. If you take away all of the options, you might as well be on your couch playing the Madden games.

In the case of what football broadcasters are saying, I respect their opinion. Most of these analysts are former players and coaches themselves, and they know the pain and harrowing rehabilitation processes that follow these lower-body injuries. However, it should also be known that it's a part of the game and it really can't be avoided--just like the freak concussions occurring from teammate collisions on a tackle. Accidents happen. While the safety of the teams are key, this is the price that is going to be paid each and every time they step out onto the field.


Saturday, August 31, 2013

Team Loss = Weight Gain?

I read an article on the Huffington Post earlier in the week about bulging waistlines when it came to sports. I was like "What?" and it got me thinking about a whole bunch of things. Are we really that invested in a team or in players that we get depressed and stress-eat way too easily? Here we go...

Close your eyes. No. That's a bad idea--you wouldn't be able to read this.
Imagine. There. That's better.

Your favorite team is doing extremely well in a game against the rival team. However, the rival team comes back and your favorite team chokes and eventually loses the game in a horrible fashion. Your life seems to be in shambles because you had so much faith in your team. You're sad. How do you handle this?

Some people might not go through this often, while others may experience the hurt and pain all of the time. Being a faithful fan has perks, but when you live and die with a team, you not only share in their successes but share in their sorrows as well. I remember writing a long time ago how being a fan of particular sports teams can be compared to being in an abusive relationship. When one goes through a bad breakup, one handles it in different ways, such as moping, excessive crying, compulsive shopping, or taking in exorbitant amounts of food and drinks (usually alcohol). When a major game is coming up, one gets mentally ready for the date with destiny. If it ends terribly, the emotional soul could be wrecked and one may need to fill the empty space with some sort of temporary happiness.

You can read the article right here.
After reading the article, I disagreed with the statement. Firstly, the study was rather small-scale and only covered NFL fans. As I had said on Twitter earlier this week, it wasn't representative of the whole sports-spectating population. Some of the survey questions that were mentioned in the article made me laugh because the choices were so polarizing (chips/candy or grapes/tomatoes). Because of the study conducted, I had no choice but to challenge the findings and argue from the other side. However, there were a few good observations made in the article, and I'll lay them out for you here.

First, we can admit that they have a lot of common sense working in their favor to begin with.
The main argument working for this article is that the study only involved American football fans. Their reasoning and findings may prove true since teams only play once a week, and there are often times where friends go over to friends' houses or families get together to watch the game. Not just that, but people also make their ways to bars and restaurants on Sundays to watch the game. If the team isn't doing well, or if there's enough people in the area to socialize with, mindless social eating and drinking can occur. That makes total sense, right?

The second argument isn't mentioned in the Huff Post article, but based on my own experiences, this other argument can fit in quite nicely with the findings of the study.
Those who are die-hard fans of football and baseball may take part in fantasy leagues. While some of these leagues may be for fun, some of them have money involved in the process. I'm pretty sure that anybody would be upset if they were out on cash if their teams or particular players from teams weren't playing so well. Fantasy leagues (which is something I'd like to write about someday) get the fan up-close and personal with running a team and becoming as knowledgeable about stats and team building as possible. When it falls flat and you run out of cash and hope, bad things could definitely happen.
I've also seen and heard about fantasy drafts that are held at parties and is treated like some sort of competitive holiday. If look at the argument before this, mindless social eating/drinking isn't gauged; for instance, think of the way you eat at Thanksgiving or Christmas. It works like that.

Those things I can understand by the article; however, there's always another side to a story and always a counterargument to a theory.

What if some of the fans investigated are athletes as well? I know it seems like I'm digging for counterarguments, but there are people out there who enjoy sports and are in a decent amount of shape. I've stated before that I am a Phillies fan. They've been doing pretty poorly this year, and I don't really find myself overeating because of how badly they've been playing. Also, I don't think I did any overeating when I got my rear end handed to me week after week in that random 20-team fantasy football league that I did last year with Andrew. That was horrible. Anyway, there are people out there that have other outlets than eating. Mine just happened to involve lifting a lot of weights. I know a Steelers fan that isn't a compulsive eater when they get totally embarrassed. I also know a lot of Cubs fans that find other ways to exert anger and depression after continuing their losing streak year after year. Regardless of sport, not everyone has the easiest of access to junk food when their team loses.

The second counterargument I have is this: sporting events are social events--everyone is going to be eating in some way. Plus, it's rather obvious that the study conducted doesn't really help the cause of alleviating the struggles of the expanding waistline in the United States. It's nothing new when news outlets say "there's a new study out" that the United States has a massive problem when it comes to heart disease, diabetes, and other physical health ailments that stem from obesity. More people are overweight in the US than in most "first-world countries" combined, and the eating/drinking lifestyle proves that. Also, the amount of physical activity is relatively low. Most people work at sedentary jobs, and other don't "find the time" to exercise or have the ability to make healthier choices. Our genes don't necessarily work well in our favor, either. Just think: there are people in England and other European countries that treat soccer like a religion and things can get extremely ugly when a team loses. A lot of drinking can be involved at times. However, they're not as heavy-set as we are, right?

This is a rather interesting study conducted, and I had enjoyed reading the article. It also gave me a good reason to write about an ongoing major issue that people in the United States are trying to fight. While it was a small study, it brings spectator lifestyles into light, and maybe it's a reality check to some people. To be honest, I never thought that sporting events could make me eat more if my team lost. I have some good willpower, but nothing is impossible.

Do you find yourself gaining a little weight or adopting other rotten habits because of the woes of your favorite team?


Friday, August 23, 2013

Little League = Little Extremes

Last week, one of the biggest sporting events in the state of Pennsylvania began and will be ending on Sunday. I'm talking about the Little League World Series. People from all around the country to see teams from different regions of the United States and all around the world play.

During the month of August, there is usually a surefire TV program to put on when there is absolutely nothing else on television: The Little League World Series. These eleven and twelve-year old boys enter the grand stage through their hard work and determination. They're still young enough for tears when there's a loss, but truth be told, when you see these kids make incredible plays, they're going to make you feel old and flabby and make you ask what you're currently doing with your life.

Before I begin, there might be a few things that you may not even realize if you haven't been a part of Little League yourself or don't watch nearly as much ESPN coverage as the next person. The Little League World Series not only covers a division of 11 and 12 year olds, but there are other divisions that play throughout the month: the Junior League (12-15), Senior League (13-17), and Big League (17-18). Obviously, these games are very rarely televised, and the younger boys get the spotlight, as their division is mainly referred to as the "Major Division." Also, these different divisions aren't usually played at Williamsport, Pennsylvania. There is usually a host team that is a part in the pool play and the competition goes from there.

However, with what you do see...

These kids are insane. These goodness.

One thing that was brought to my attention this past week was how some of the boys that are in little league are growing in size. One twelve-year old boy was--get this--6'2" and 200 lbs. The first thing that happened to me was that my jaw dropped and my eyeballs fell into my mouth. The second thing that happened was I vigorously shook my head because his nickname was "Swag Daddy." I digress. These boys are getting much, much bigger and ferocious-looking. From my standpoint, when I'm twice their age and they're twice my size, I become severely intimidated and will ask what the parents are feeding them.

I saw this and my brain darn-near exploded.
Could you imagine how much more these kids are going to grow before they turn 21? You almost hope that these kids don't get joint problems later on in their teenage years.

If you thought the size thing was relatively scary, there have been issues in the past when it came to the ages of the boys. The most infamous case was one of Danny Almonte, who helped lead his team from the Bronx to a third-place finish in 2001. What we didn't find out until a few weeks later was that the pitcher was actually 14 years old, as opposed to the maximum age of 12. Since the team was not involved in the final, the inevitable opening of the can of worms did not happen. The issue received a load of media attention, and lucky for Almonte, he has slipped out of the media eye since then.

Everything about this event is wonderful to examine. For instance, the umpires and concessions staff that are present at each game are there as volunteers and are doing everything without pay. That's right, the umpires you see are not getting paid for transportation and their services. They're doing it because they love to do what they do. How cool is that? This is a grand stage not only for the boys, but for the umpires' and volunteers' love of the game.

The competition used to be done in pool play format, but it is now held in a double-elimination style held between the United States teams and the International teams. When teams are eliminated, consolation games are played between US teams and international against each other. It's a good way to go out if the boys don't make it far.
When the kids aren't competing, they have a common hall where all of the kids can hang out and play games like foosball and ping-pong. There is no hostility among anyone, and everyone develops a strong relationship on and off the field. That is awesome. Even when the games get tight and tough [if you watched the Washington/Connecticut game Friday afternoon, you'll know exactly what I mean] sportsmanship is still present during and after the games.

Some of the things you will notice is how there is a recommendation for safety in the Little League World Series. The first one that should be mentioned is the sliding policy. Head-first sliding is not permitted in the Little League World Series. For example, during a game between Japan and Czech Republic, a boy playing for the Czech Republic was trying to slide into home to beat the throw and started going in head-first, but somehow spun himself around and looked like a windmill so his feet could slide into the plate first. Another rule that is practiced is the pitch counts that are enforced during the Series. A certain set of days are required to rest if a pitcher exceeds a certain amount of pitches. The maximum amount of pitches that a boy can throw is 85 or until the at-bat is finished after the 85 pitches. They're not in the major leagues yet, so that's very reasonable.
One last rule is that every boy on the roster has to be involved in the game in some way, whether it's hitting, pinch running, or playing the field. That is something that is special in my eyes, because I can remember sitting the bench in an important game and wanting to be a part of something special; I wouldn't want to see that for these boys that have come a long way from where they had originally began. One thing you may find interesting is that plays can be reviewed just as in Major League Baseball.

There is always the fuss over Little League when it comes to boys. Do they have anything when it has to do with the girls? Absolutely! There is the Little League World Series for softball, and they have almost the same format. The series for them is played earlier on in the month and isn't as largely televised as the boys' Major Division, but it exists and is slowly gaining more exposure on sports stations like ESPN. You may also witness a rare case in which you will see a girl or two play along with the boys each year. Yes, it is possible. In years past, I have seen a few girls play on the Japanese team and they did fairly well. This year, we saw a girl play for the Czech Republic, and she beat out many boys to make the team, including her own twin brother. Insane, right? She didn't play half bad, either.

Not all boys who have played Little League have continued on to play baseball after this, but many of them have become successful in their own rights, such as becoming doctors, actors, lawyers, and even MLB players--Todd Frazier of the Cincinnati Reds was a part of the 1998 Toms River, New Jersey team that won the championship, and he was the starting pitcher in the final against Japan. This league has taught boys discipline and shown them what hard work and determination leads to. These experiences are taken wherever they go later on in life, and it leaves an indelible impression on their character and their outlook on life.

The Little League World Series is something I always look forward to when it comes on television in the month of August. While it may seem silly to some, the love of the sport and the sportsmanship that is presented by these younger boys is wonderful to watch considering how most athletes are portrayed and displayed in major league sports in the United States. It's a breath of fresh air to see a sporting event that isn't poisoned by controversies and financial issues.

It's all about the kids. That's what makes this great.


Monday, August 12, 2013


What I am writing about today may not be considered a sport to many of you readers. It may be considered an art or a hobby or a skill. However, what some critics deem as "crazy" is incredibly fascinating and a testament to how impressive the human body can be. This is a sport. It is a sport of mind and of physical fitness.

There has bound to be one point in time in which you, the reader, have seen a commercial or a television spot in which an individual is jumping off of buildings, swinging on rafters, and doing crazy stunts that only a monkey was originally thought to have been able to pull off. When the practice was introduced to mainstream media outlets in the late 1990's-early 2000's, the term was called "freerunning," and art that grew in popularity in Europe and several regions in the United States. However, this term has been outrun over the past decade by the term "Parkour," the name of the main art developed in France. The art has a deep history, and the tactics used in this art have given a new leg to people interested in major sports and athletics such as martial arts and gymnastics.

Inspired by military training tactics from pre-World War I, the art was developed and crafted by a man named David Belle, who heard of stories of survival and skill from his grandfather. Since he was described as not being very good at popular sports or academics, he took his grandfather's stories and put them into action on his own. He trained and practiced different skills such as running, jumping, and climbing on various obstacle courses created. As time passed, friends and some family members gained interest in his activities, and they all began training together. Since the 1990's their acrobatics and daredevil-like antics have attracted fitness gurus and other athletic enthusiasts alike for their physical control and complete concentration over their actions.

Photo from Huffington Post
(Article Link Here)

This stuff is impressive.

While not officially recognized as a sport, it has easily become an extreme hobby in the same vein as surfing and rock climbing. Many freerunners have been featured on television such as the Japanese television show SASUKE (a.k.a. Ninja Warrior) displaying their extreme feats and have made a name for themselves. This activity isn't for the faint of heart nor is it really built for those stupid people who do stupid stuff and are featured on silly reality television shows. It isn't something where you are sitting on the couch on a Saturday afternoon and you say: "I'm bored. I'm gonna go vault over a few things on the street." It was created as an art and should rightfully be treated as one. The practitioners of parkour and freerunning have been training and practicing for a very long time and trust their bodies enough to perform stunts and push themselves to the limit. It is a discipline that is taken very seriously and could segue into the world of sports quite nicely. For example, it could be a great asset to learn if one is in competitive gymnastics. For example, training in events such as pommel horse and uneven parallel bars could be improved upon through training in parkour. When you think about it, vaulting could also fall into that training category as well.

It's a strong argument, yes?

With the increase in popularity, could this art be used as a tool to improve the ability of Olympic gymnasts?
It's possible.

Based on research, a number of training facilities around the country that teach gymnastics also teach parkour/freerunning as well. Since both require coordination and focus, it is a great marriage of acrobatics. Parkour could not be considered an Olympic sport in itself like other arts such as judo and taekwon-do since it isn't a standalone practice that can be used for competitive display. The art could be more or less seen as an art of enrichment and advancement in skill, almost like yoga. That is more than enough to help athletes with agility, body control, and even muscle toning if you want to get more technical.

Although I have mentioned these points, I haven't been able to pinpoint any major Olympic gymnasts who have used parkour in their training regimen. However, a former British gymnast is a heavy practitioner of the art. Although Damien Walters is no longer an Olympic gymnast, his skills have been shown on YouTube and through his work as a stuntman in films. You could even say that his career in gymnastics has evolved and shaped the career that he has immersed himself in now.

I've said previously that this is an art of enrichment similar to martial arts and yoga. It is a more extreme and physical form, and it requires a great deal of discipline and self-trust. As athletic as some people are, some might not be so trusting of themselves if they had to jump from a higher-than-usual distance and be able to balance body weight and roll out the impact correctly. I bet if I did it a few times I would get it, but I would also be dumb enough to screw up the first time and roll on my ankle. Again, there's a lot of focus and trust involved with the art and it should be taken as seriously as any other practice like in sports.

I'm completely fascinated with the art of parkour. The human body can do incredible things, and this is a testament to that. When I refer to it as a sport, it is a sport of the mind.  I don't ever believe that Belle intended this to be something competitive; it was created for people who may not be as coordinated to do sports but it exists for people to be more in-touch with their bodies and push their limits to the maximum. Theorists claim that the key to true happiness can be reached by being one with your body and finding it's true potential. Trusting yourself to do extreme feats could be a huge start to that.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Violent (R)Evolution

After Emile Griffith's death on July 23, I researched him and the controversial fight between him and Cuban welterweight Benny Paret. It made me think of the concept of violence in sports and how it has evolved into something that is so common that people don't give it a second thought anymore.

Unless you live under a rock--then again, if you did you couldn't read this post; I digress--then you should know that to some capacity, every mainstream sport is a physical one and that there are a lot of risks and dangers in being an amateur or professional athlete. Freak injuries could occur, lives could be affected forever, and you could even risk your own life. For example, March 24, 1962 is a very infamous date in the world of boxing. On that day at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Welterweight title was on the line in Paret-Griffith III. The fight was so well-hyped that it also received a national broadcast on ABC. The first eleven rounds of the fight were back-and-forth, filled with excitement and edge-of-your-seat action. However, the twelfth round is what would cast a dark shadow over the sport for an amount of time.

Screen capture from
You would think that seeing his head rock back and forth would have resulted in the fight being called sooner.
During the twelfth round, Emile Griffith opened the round with a flurry of punches, sending Benny Paret into a corner where he had difficulty in holding his guard. Within a twenty-second period, Griffith landed nearly thirty punches on Paret, and referee Ruby Goldstein stopped the fight. As he did so, Paret slowly slid down the corner of the ring and fell unconscious. The pomp and circumstance went on after this initial scene, as many spectators and analysts believed that Paret had collapsed of exhaustion. However, the next scene a few minutes later was an indicator as to how serious the matter was. During the post-fight interview, Paret was seen being stretchered out of the ring while medics checked on him. Obviously startled, Griffith had hoped that his opponent would be okay. Paret later slipped into a coma and died from his injuries ten days later on April 4.

After the fight, fingers were looking to point at a culprit to blame Paret's death. Some believed that it was Griffith, who had retaliated after Paret called him a "maricón," a Spanish gay slur (Griffith was identified as bisexual), during the pre-fight weigh-in. Others had placed the blame on referee Ruby Goldstein, in which they thought he took entirely too long to call the fight after the onslaught of punches brought on by Griffith. Both men have later expressed their guilt and their sorrow over the tragedy that happened that day, and both careers were never truly the same afterward.

On the other hand, the one major blip on the Paret radar was the period between his last fight and the previous was three months. Three months. Not to mention that Paret was completely destroyed in the previous fight and didn't have the motivation for the next fight. This was also his fourth fight within a whole year. You don't see anything like that today. A grown man today would cry if he had to fight that much. You couldn't blame him though, considering that money was tight in his family, and this was going to be his last fight considering his recent downturn.

Have we learned from this event? Has it made us more aware of the dangers of ultra-physical sports and events such as boxing and MMA?
I don't think so. Not in the eyes of spectators.

However, it has affected the awareness of serious (and fatal) injuries that can occur during an event.
Sure, we can't put pads on every single little thing that our bodies have, but we should also learn that bodies need to heal. We need to make money and perform at our peak, but when lives are on the line, is it truly worth it? Some athletes don't think that way. There's the mentality of "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" that exists in society, whether its in a mental form, emotional form, or in this case, a more physical form. One thing that has differed from that time period is the enforcement of strong official rulings and the advances and drive to achieve peak physical health and fitness. I'm not saying that the men from fifty years ago were not in good shape--they totally were compared to the average male--but there have been advances in sports science that have given athletes the opportunity to use equipment to better attain their physical needs. Also, the cases of official rulings through board members and trainers enforce the policies of the sport, such as whether an athlete can be "cleared" to do any kind of physical activity. If you would like to throw drug testing in this category, you can do that as well. They're also there for that reason.

Certain sports aren't for the faint of heart, like boxing or MMA, but we as a society have become so desensitized to the near-glorified violence shown today that the main issue at hand is blurred. In other words, what should be an issue isn't seen to be an issue at all by today's standards! When Paret-Griffith III occurred over 50 years ago, seeing a man injured to the point where he later died of his injuries a week and a half later was shocking by the standards of that day. Plus, this was also broadcast on live television. That was a big deal back in the day, and seeing a scene like this almost put the practice to shame. While it would still be shocking in today's society, I don't think it would actually have a strong chance of occurring thanks to the reasons I had mentioned above. Also, there are the graces of the seven-second delay that occurs in most television broadcasts in case if something horrifying occurs. Sometimes the censors do not catch something soon enough, but when a death occurs, heavy discretionary measures are weighed.
[Note: There are several media examples of this that I choose not to get into since this is not a news-themed blog.]

Going back to the "issue that isn't an issue" at hand, more of these sports are being televised nationwide and more spectators have access to the sport than ever before. What used to be the case many years ago was that you either had to be there to experience the full effect or you had to listen to the radio to find out what happened. The announcers could add the emotional effect and paint a good enough mental image for you to know what was going on, and something like that doesn't have a humongous effect on a certain audience since that particular audience isn't seeing the real violence. Do we know where we're going with this? Yes. I'm talking about the children. Today, cable television is all the rage, and children now have the ability to see these events happening either in real-time or in recorded form. While it is up to the parents to decide whether their children are mature enough to understand what is going on, the desensitization of violence in sports begins at a young age. I could be overdoing the analysis on this because I am not a parent myself, but there were certain things that I was not allowed to watch as a young person, and since I'm not in that role yet it's hard to measure standards. In retrospect, I don't think my Dad cared if I watched Friday Night Fights with him, but that's beside the point. I think there are some moral things that could be learned beforehand and children could understand things at faster rates. Not everyone my age is a murderer or has an uncontrollable temper, so something was done right.

In conclusion, the violence revolution hasn't exactly progressed, per se, but it has become more commonplace in short bursts. We don't view men and women literally killing each other, but harsher programming has become more accessible in today's day and age. Seeing brutal punches, kicks, choke holds, and tackles don't mean as much to the human eye and brain as it once did. Seeing other people do it and seeing the pain on their face doesn't exactly translate well to immature eyes, and it could lead to people "trying things" on each other. It happens a lot with kids who watch wrestling, even when they suggest to not try what they do at home. Stuff like this could also lead to bigger and even more dangerous underground workings, but that is a concept that is too complex for even me to get into in a post like this. Heck, what goes on there may have nothing to do with violence in sports; in fact, it could just be out of stupidity for all we know.

Violence is becoming common in society, but is it for the best? It can't be stopped, though accidental death can be prevented. Violence is a key part in sports. What did they do in Rome? People getting eaten was their form of sports entertainment. However, we're not as barbaric as we once were. I'm sure we could see athleticism without a bunch of hungry lions. Can we see athleticism without showing as much brutality? In some cases, no (boxing and mixed martial arts), but in other sports it can be. Baseball, soccer, and basketball do not show as much physical brutality as other sports, and while injury still occurs, it isn't always because of a fight.

I guess if it sports violence hasn't affected one person, it might not affect another in the same way. Different strokes for different folks, I suppose.

Has the level of violence evolved in sports to you? What do you think?