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Sports Sense http://sportssense.net a common sense look at sports and its place in our society Wed, 27 Jan 2016 00:26:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.13 Should The Clippers Release Blake Griffin? http://sportssense.net/?p=2262 http://sportssense.net/?p=2262#respond Wed, 27 Jan 2016 00:17:44 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2262

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin repeatedly punched a Clippers equipment manager, Matias Testi, over the weekend and broke his own hand in the process.

Griffin and Testi in happier times

Griffin and Testi in happier times

If Griffin was an unknown person with a regular job, making a regular person’s salary, the fact that he punched a co-worker would likely mean Griffin would be fired and possibly prosecuted.

Little doubt there is more to this story than the punches thrown and landed.

Complicating this incident is the fact that Griffin and Testi are friends, at least they used to be. What would spark such a violent act? At this point we can only speculate – something I’m not going to do.

Bottom line, it shouldn’t have happened.  Clippers coach Doc Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer must decide how to move forward.  I’m sure releasing Griffin is not out of the question.

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Manning v Brady: Is this the Final Showdown? Is it Peyton’s last game? http://sportssense.net/?p=2257 http://sportssense.net/?p=2257#respond Sat, 23 Jan 2016 00:13:18 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2257

Will Sunday be Peyton Manning’s last game?  Is this the final showdown between two of the NFL’s all-time greatest quarterbacks?

 

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The Mess in Miami: Can We Learn From It? http://sportssense.net/?p=2239 http://sportssense.net/?p=2239#respond Tue, 05 Nov 2013 17:59:52 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2239

I’ve spent the last several days consumed by reports, and commentaries about the ugly actions that intimidated and served to disrespect and dishonor Jonathan Martin, the Miami Dolphins lineman who last week said he had had enough and walked away from his team and teammates.

Jonathan Martin

Jonathan Martin

Several things strike me about this. The first is the obvious: what possessed Richie Incognito to target Martin in this way, with nasty, racially tinged emails and text messages and perhaps other actions that have yet to be reported?  What kind of human being says and does this to another?  This could not have been part of the dubious tradition of rookie hazing, since Martin was no longer a rookie. And why Martin? To this point there is no evidence that Incognito was treating other teammates this way.  With justification the Dolphins have suspended Incognito indefinitely, and the NFL is now investigating this incident with the potential that other penalties could be levied.

Just as puzzling: why didn’t other Dolphins players intervene?  They had to know something was wrong, especially Martin’s fellow offensive linemen.  Did they feel it was not their place to take sides? Did they also see this as part of the NFL experience and that Martin would and should find a way to handle this on his own?  Further none of what has come out over the last few days explains why a number of Martin’s teammates participated in the fateful lunchroom stunt that finally broke Martin’s spirit and caused him to leave the team.

Richie Incognito

Richie Incognito

Underlying all of this is the unspoken code of conduct and silence that governs many team sports and player interactions. This code condones rookie hazing, pranks, mild financial coercion and other actions.  Most of which falls under the questionable rubric of team building and bonding.

But clearly whatever bond there was between Martin and Incognito and perhaps other teammates is broken, more than likely irretrievably. It would not be surprising if both players never play another down for Miami.  Also clear is that while today we focus specifically on the nasty rift in Miami, in a larger sense, this isn’t just a Dolphins’ problem, its a bad human being problem.

Sadly, I hear and read remarks from too many who wonder why Martin didn’t literally fight back or at least confront Incognito. What I say to that is, we are not inside Martin’s head and soul.  We have no idea the totality of what he experienced from Incognito and others.  Based on what we know, he was victimized, bullied and unprotected, plain and simple.

No one deserves this.  Even a man as large as Jonathan Martin.  But as I write this, and it is still early, there are things that remain very unsettling, like Incognito’s indiscriminate use of the N-word toward Martin which has not been roundly condemned by Dolphins players, especially Martin’s African-American teammates.

This is a messy, ugly and fluid situation, but it is also one that actually shines the light  on bad and shameful behavior generally, which all of us can and should learn from.

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Peyton Manning Returns To Indianapolis http://sportssense.net/?p=2230 http://sportssense.net/?p=2230#comments Fri, 18 Oct 2013 11:12:04 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2230

Probably the most anticipated regular season football game in Indianapolis Colts history will take place Sunday night when the Colts take on the Denver Broncos, or more accurately, when the Colts take on Peyton Manning.

Its an obvious observation to say that Peyton Manning is an Indianapolis icon, and easily the biggest sports star to ever play in Indiana’s capital city.  But a year and a half ago, with his health and career in question, he emotionally announced he was leaving the Colts, and as a result he left a city divided and many of his fans in mourning.

What Manning did for the Colts over 14 seasons was remarkable.

Peyton Manning

Peyton Manning

The Colts won more games in a ten-year period than any team in NFL history, largely due to the laser-accurate right arm of Manning who, like a maestro, literally orchestrated the Colts high-powered offense. During that time Manning won four league MVP awards and a Super Bowl.

But as much as this game revolves around Manning, the co-star in Sunday’s drama is Manning’s replacement in Indianapolis, Andrew Luck.

Luck, who was the first player picked in the 2012 draft is the reason the Colts felt comfortable parting ways with Manning.  Of course having the NFL’s worst record while Manning sat out the season with a complicated neck injury made the selection of Luck possible.

Luck has been everything the Colts could have hoped for. He is to many expert observers the best of an outstanding crop of young quarterbacks and is rapidly climbing the ladder of the league’s top signal callers. Many of those same experts say Luck is better at this point in his career than Manning was.

Andrew Luck

Andrew Luck

But what makes this game not just dramatic but important is the fact that Manning is having the best season of his storied career. And the Broncos are undefeated and considered the favorite to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. But the Colts, despite a slip up against San Diego this past Monday, also look strong enough to be considered a real challenger for the Super Bowl themselves at 4-2.

One of the interesting and controversial subplots leading up to Sunday night’s game is a statement made by Colts owner Jim Irsay which Broncos coach John Fox called a “cheap shot” at Manning. What Irsay said in sum was that he wants to win more than one championship with the current Luck-led roster. To which I say: what NFL owner doesn’t want to win multiple Super Bowls? And what NFL owner wouldn’t be a bit disappointed to have only come away with one Super Bowl win when he had a team led by one of the all-time greats? If that fact-based wish is a shot at Peyton Manning then so be it.

Still, expect hundreds if not thousands of Manning fans dressed in either number 18 Colts jerseys, or number 18 Broncos jerseys as reverence for Manning remains just that strong in Indianapolis. Tickets on the after market are already going for record prices, and NBC which will televise the game can expect its highest ratings of the season.

As for the game itself, the Broncos based on their record and Manning’s play, should be favored. So it won’t be a surprise if the visitors win.  But the Colts are not be taken lightly. And my gut says Andrew Luck will lead the Colts to victory with another one of his fourth quarter rallies.  My only hope though, no matter who wins, is that Peyton Manning looks good too and leaves the game unscathed.

The worst outcome would be the sight of Manning limping to the sidelines in the majestic stadium he helped make possible.

 

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Riley Cooper and the N-Word: It’s Not Just What He Said http://sportssense.net/?p=2223 http://sportssense.net/?p=2223#comments Fri, 02 Aug 2013 19:36:41 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2223

Although some words, standing alone, carry more weight than others, the context in which they are used must also be considered.   In the case of Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper who has now been excused from team activities to undergo counseling, it isn’t just that he uttered the infamous “N” word, its really about how and when he used it, and why.

Riley Cooper

Riley Cooper

Some will get caught up in the word itself, which by today’s standards should never, ever be uttered by any non-African American, and especially never be used by anyone who is white.  Those are the rules.

But rules notwithstanding, the contradictory fact is that some of the sting has been taken out of the N-Word these days because of the wide use of its variant that ends with an “a”.  It is uttered proudly as a greeting by many African Americans, and used to spice up years and years of Hip Hop and Rap song lyrics, which ironically are enjoyed and sung along word for word, eagerly and without incident, by millions of non-black music consumers.

But the complicated N-Word rules demand that once a non-black person isn’t singing along and uses the more vile historically onerous N-Word that ends in “er”, a line has definitely been crossed.  Worse yet is when the word is used to intimidate and de-humanize, which is Riley Cooper’s real sin, and why, despite his profuse apologies, he has been fined, forced into counseling and is being ostracized by many of his teammates.

While his apology suggests that this was a rare and perhaps first-ever use, we must still ask: Why did Cooper feel the need to racially threaten and demean the African American security guard at the concert he attended? What was he thinking?  What is in his heart?   Hopefully counseling will provide Cooper with much needed answers and perhaps save a career that may now be in doubt.

One also hopes though that while Cooper contemplates his actions and his words, all of us, of whatever color and race re-examine the use of the N-word which has been de-stigmatized by our casualness, callousness and perhaps hatred, sadly disregarding the millions whose lives have been damaged and sometimes taken away because of the cruelty this ugly word has tragically instigated.

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Lance Armstrong Finally Comes Clean? We’ll See http://sportssense.net/?p=2211 http://sportssense.net/?p=2211#respond Tue, 15 Jan 2013 10:56:43 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2211

Lance Armstrong apparently came clean to Oprah Winfrey on Monday by admitting to blood doping and using PEDs. One of his spokespersons said that he would speak “directly, honestly and candidly” to the talk show host. We get to see an edited highlight of that interview on Thursday on Oprah’s cable network, OWN.

I have long had mixed feelings about Lance Armstrong, most of them not so good. But finally telling some version of the truth to Oprah doesn’t make me feel any better about the guy.

Lance Armstrong

Lance Armstrong

What I do know is that Armstrong is a consummate salesman. Years ago he successfully sold just about everyone on a seemingly honest and miraculous story of overcoming life-threatening cancer and becoming a champion. As legend has it, his seven Tour de France titles were the result of Armstrong’s incredible will and his committment to training, hard work and faith and nothing else. He always vehemently denied drugs and blood doping ever played a part in his success.

But now we also know that Armstrong toyed with the admiration of legions of unsuspecting fans who celebrated his triumph over testicular cancer and bought whole the incredible symbol of hope that he became. And with each racing victory Armstrong was literally authoring one of the most inspirational sports stories ever told. The thing is only his victory over cancer was achieved honestly.

Lance Armstrong’s powerful fable was fortified by the establishment of one of the great charitable foundations of our time – Livestrong. Millions of yellow rubber Livestrong bracelets became iconic symbols of the fight against cancer. And helped the foundation raise millions of dollars for cancer research. Just as importantly those bracelets served to enhance Armstrong’s image and virtually inoculated him in the face of mounting suspicion that he didn’t win his races without illegal assistance.

To be fair though, Armstrong was the very best cyclist in what we’ve discovered was an almost totally corrupt sport. It turns out that just about every top cyclist over the last two decades has been implicated in the doping and PED scandal.

So yes, I get why Armstrong lied, and know that he wasn’t alone lying and cheating. I accept that he did what he believed he had to do to compete and win.

But what I don’t understand is the way he allegedly treated those who spoke to authorities about cycling’s doping scandal and his involvement. Some of those people at one time were Armstrong’s close friends and teammates. And if reports are true, Armstrong viciously tried to ruin the lives of some who spoke against him. I do hope Oprah asked him about those deplorable actions.

So what is the underlying motivation for him to tell his story now? Armstrong, who is as shrewd at public relations and cynical self-preservation as any sports figure has ever been, has to have an angle right? I have little doubt that this is all about winning sympathy and rehabilitating his image and very little about humility and contrition. But I wish I didn’t feel that way.

Nonetheless I will be watching closely to see if I’m wrong and he really does come clean and sound sincere for a change.

 

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Seattle’s Russell Wilson Shines Again: I Told You So http://sportssense.net/?p=2201 http://sportssense.net/?p=2201#respond Mon, 07 Jan 2013 15:33:34 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2201

Few things in life are more satisfying than a real good “I told you so!” And right now I’m feeling pretty satisfied about Russell Wilson, the undersized, rookie quarterback, who on Sunday led the visiting Seattle Seahawks to a playoff victory over the Washington Redskins.

Russell Wilson

There have been doubts all season about Wilson, detractors wondering when his size was finally going to work against him. It hasn’t happened. It likely won’t happen.

Actually the doubting about Wilson started well before the season began. Let’s look back to last April and the NFL draft. Wilson was the 75th pick, taken in the third round. Even the team that took him, Seattle, waited until then to take a “chance” on the All-Big Ten quarterback from Wisconsin who stands just under 5’11”.

Seattle had just signed promising Green Bay backup quarterback Matt Flynn to a big money, multi-year deal, with the belief that Flynn would be their quarterback of the future. But Seattle head coach Pete Carroll using common sense that too often eludes NFL decision makers once they’ve laid out big bucks, saw early on that Wilson was actually better than Flynn. And to Carroll’s credit rather than try to justify the dollars paid out to Flynn by making him the starter, Carroll trusted what he saw in Wilson – a cerebral, strong-armed, athletic leader.

Carroll’s stunning decision, which went against the grain of conventional wisdom, is now paying huge dividends as Seattle moves on to Atlanta to take on the Falcons in round two of the playoffs.

Wilson’s surprising ascendence though has not quite removed the expansive shadow cast by two other outstanding rookies, Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, aka RG3, who were taken one-two in the draft. Most of the media’s attention was focused on the exploits of those two for most of the season. And indeed Griffin and Luck played very well for their respective teams, Washington and Indianapolis, leading them to the playoffs as well.

But as the season wore on hype or not, it was becoming harder and harder to ignore what Wilson was doing in the far northwest corner of the country. It was beginning to look like he may be the more complete rookie quarterback.

Wilson kept his mistakes to a minimum, with only 10 interceptions, something that plagued Luck, who led the league in turnovers. Wilson was also a dual threat, but he ran smartly and avoided big hits, something that RG3 will have to learn to do more of next season or risk another major injury. Wilson also finished the regular season tied with Peyton Manning for the most touchdown passes by a rookie with 26.

Still it likely took Sunday’s showdown just outside the nation’s capital to convince remaining doubters that Wilson was at least the equal of RG3 if not better. And playing earlier in the day less than 40 miles away in Baltimore, Colt’s rookie Andrew Luck showed in a loss to the Ravens that he still has a lot to learn and that despite being 6’4′ his passes can be blocked and tipped. In fact Luck led the league in passes being knocked down.

Despite the numbers, and the visual evidence, I know not everyone will be convinced that Russell Wilson is the best of the three stellar rookie quarterbacks no matter how hard I plead his case. But right now he’s the only rookie quarterback still in the playoffs and that’s enough for me to say – I told you so.

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The Best Football Player: Reframing the NFL’s MVP Debate http://sportssense.net/?p=2189 http://sportssense.net/?p=2189#respond Tue, 11 Dec 2012 17:43:01 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2189

With only three games left in the regular season debate is intensifying about who should be this year’s NFL MVP.

Friends of mine, like so many others, believe the MVP award, at least at this point in the season, must go to Peyton Manning, who like the mythical Phoenix has risen from the possible ashes of his career, to lead Denver to a playoff berth by having yet another remarkable season of quarterback play.

I’m in the camp that says the MVP award has already been locked up by the Vikings all-world running back, Adrian Peterson, who after a devastating knee injury a year ago is by any measure having one of the most astounding seasons in the history of the NFL and is the only real offensive threat the Vikings have.

Adrian Peterson

But in an age when passing dominates the offensive game plan and running backs are seen as an interchangeable dime a dozen, Adrian Peterson is the decided underdog in the MVP race.  While I understand that this is the way things are these days, it doesn’t mean I have to like it or accept it.

What I do know is the MVP debate is largely about semantics.  Most valuable player – what does that really mean?  The fact is it means whatever someone wants it to mean.  And in the NFL, most of those in a position to vote and bestow awards have decided that the league’s MVP honor is essentially a best quarterback award.

I believe the only way to level the playing field in this terribly skewed argument is to change the terms and language of the discussion.

The best way to do it is to eliminate the MVP and replace it with the BFP – Best Football Player.  This would allow voters to consider the whole football player – his skills, accomplishments, impact, leadership and the player’s overall badass-ness.    With a formula like that I can assure you that quarterbacks wouldn’t win most of the time.

Boxing has just such an equivalency formula.  It’s called the best boxer pound for pound.  It’s a way of judging who the most skilled boxer is considering all factors.  And allows for a way to surmise theoretically how a heavyweight like Mike Tyson might fare against a middleweight like Marvin Hagler – all things being equal.  Or how today’s pound for pound champion Floyd Mayweather actually stacks up against one of the huge hard-hitting heavyweight champion Klitschko brothers.

The same should be done in football to even the odds that have been stacked against players at positions other than quarterback.  Of course quarterbacks play a significant role for every team, and have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of games, but they are not always the best football players on the field.  Last I counted there were 21 other players blocking, tackling, running and catching.  All of them matter.  And a few of them who don’t take snaps from center are actually the best players in the game.

So by my revised standard, the BFP, or best football player this season is Adrian Peterson.  He is a beast.   He is strong and powerful, extremely fast and elusive, and has successfully overcome an injury no football player has a right to heal from this quickly.  Adrian Peterson is simply not human.

History though has been kind to non-quarterbacks in this debate.  For years Jim Brown was almost universally considered the all-time best football player.

Modern evaluators now say the greatest football player in history is probably Jerry Rice.   In my lifetime no quarterback has ever been considered for that prestigious honor.  Fair enough.

 

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Do the Right Thing Heisman Trophy Voters http://sportssense.net/?p=2180 http://sportssense.net/?p=2180#respond Tue, 04 Dec 2012 18:27:39 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2180

On Saturday night the winner of college football’s most prestigious award, the Heisman Trophy, will be announced for the 78th time.  But despite being an avid football fan I rarely watch the ceremony, because the outcome is virtually pre-determined.

I’ve long been a critic of the Heisman Trophy and the way the winners are selected.   A couple of years ago I called it the biggest joke in football.

Although New York City’s Downtown Athletic Club prides itself in honoring the nation’s most outstanding football player, the problem with the Heisman is that it almost always fails to take into account all of the players on the field, in particular defensive players.

The last defensive player to win the award was cornerback Charles Woodson from the University of Michigan in 1997. But he also had to return punts and occasionally catch passes in order for Heisman Trophy voters to feel he was justified in getting the award.

In fact no pure defensive player has ever won the award.  Notre Dame’s Leon Hart won the award in 1949, but he played both ways as a defensive and offensive end.   The second Heisman winner Larry Kelley in 1936 was another two-way player for Yale.

An even more damning statistic for the Heisman is that almost all of the previous winners have been either running backs or quarterbacks.  Only a couple of receivers have ever won the Heisman Trophy.

This year Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is to my eyes clearly the most outstanding college football player in the country.

Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o

I know there’s a lot of excitement and hype surrounding redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel, also known by the all-time nickname, Johnny Football, from Texas A&M.    Make no mistake he is without question a great young quarterback who will garner plenty of Heisman votes.   But I just don’t think he is a more important or more outstanding player than Manti Te’o.

The last time a pure defensive player should have won the Heisman was just three years ago. That year Nebraska defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh was far and away the most dominating player in college football, but he too was denied the Heisman, finishing fourth that year, behind the winner, Alabama running back Mark Ingram. The vote was a disgrace.

I will reluctantly watch the ceremony this year, if only because I know that Manti Te’o is one of only three finalists being invited to the ceremony in New York on Saturday.  The other two are Johnny Manziel and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, which means that Te’o will obviously finish no worse than third.

But I will forever wonder why is it that the best player on the nation’s number one team is not guaranteed college football’s top prize?  It doesn’t begin to make sense.

Still I will hope that maybe, just maybe, Heisman Trophy voters will for once do the right thing.

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Notre Dame Is Back: Will Play for BCS Championship http://sportssense.net/?p=2168 http://sportssense.net/?p=2168#respond Sun, 25 Nov 2012 15:40:31 +0000 http://sportssense.net/?p=2168

You’ve got to be a real hater not to appreciate what Notre Dame has done this season.  Saturday night’s win over rival Southern Cal, punctuated by one of the all-time great goal line stands late in the fourth quarter, completed a dream season for the Fighting Irish.

They are undefeated, 12 – 0. Seriously, no one honestly saw that coming.  I certainly didn’t.  I’d pretty much come to expect the 4, 5 sometimes even 6 or 7 losses the Irish had started racking up in recent years.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti T’eo

The fact is number one ranked Notre Dame has not been a true powerhouse in nearly two decades.  And the last national championship and undefeated season for the legendary football program came in 1988.

Before the start of this football season, Allen Pinkett, a Notre Dame radio analyst, and a former Notre Dame All-America running back, suggested during an interview that the reason the team has struggled so much is because they didn’t have any “criminals”.

“I’ve always felt like, to have a successful team, you have to have a few bad citizens on the team. That’s how Ohio State used to win all the time. They would have two or three guys that were criminals and that just adds to the chemistry of the team.

“You can’t have a football team full of choir boys. You get your butt kicked if you’ve got a team full of choir boys.”

Pinkett was suspended three games by the radio network for those comments.   And while the school and many others, were publicly outraged by what he said, privately many more, including this writer, agreed with the point Pinkett so clumsily tried to make: that at its core Notre Dame didn’t have the nastiness needed to be one of the nation’s best football programs anymore.

But despite the doubts about his players and the program, third-year head coach Brian Kelly has found a way to return the Irish to glory.  It starts with their defense.   The Irish have shut down just about every offense they’ve faced this year, allowing fewer than 10 touchdowns for the entire season.

The defensive centerpiece is Heisman hopeful Manti T’eo, an extraordinary linebacker who gets tackles in bunches and has snagged a score of interceptions.

The national championship is played in Miami on January 7.  It will likely match Notre Dame against either defending BCS champion Alabama Crimson Tide or the Georgia Bulldogs who play for the SEC championship next Saturday.  My daughter, a proud Bulldog senior, promptly messaged me after Notre Dame’s memorable goal line stand, to insist that Notre Dame doesn’t have a chance against either SEC team.

And as much as I hate to admit it, she might be right, at least based on history.  An SEC team has won the last six national championship games.

But for at least another six weeks, Notre Dame can bask in the glow of what so far is a perfect season, their best in more than 20 years.  As a result, I think it’s now finally safe to say the Fighting Irish are back.

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