Archive for January, 2013

Super Bowl 47 could shake the NFL up for years to come and I will be rooting furiously for that change.

It’s not that Colin Kaepernick has the opportunity to become the second African-American Quarterback to win a Super Bowl. Doug Williams won Super Bowl XXII in one of the greatest Quarterback performances Super Bowl History and that didn’t prevent people from using coded language to dismiss the potential of black Quarterback prospects. [see accusations of Cam Newton’s alleged laziness and character issues”.] A win for Kaepernick won’t quiet the whispers about the abilities of the “Black Quarterback” on message boards and comment boxes.

But it may usher in a new era of offense in the NFL.

The bland, vanilla (no pun intended) style offense that is widely regarded as “winning football” asks the Quarterback to remain in the pocket. It demands a competent Offensive Line, strict precision passing, accuracy and a trust that the design preached by your coaches is gospel. Who can blame the narrative? It’s been proven over and over that “pocket quarterbacks” are an essential element to a winning pro football team. It isn’t called a “pro-style offense” for nothing.

But a win for Kaepernick in Super Bowl 47, given the copycat nature of the NFL, could mean the possibility of expanding the definition of the Pro QB.

The new breed of QB including Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Colin Kaepernick have emerged out of the shadow of men like Michael Vick, whose speed was seen as deterrent to his success rather than an asset. Their respective coaches have loosened the reins on these young quarterbacks and allowed their offenses to take advantage of their skills by using the “pistol” and “read-option” techniques. These new offensive schemes shun the notion that the scientific formula designed by the offensive geniuses of yesteryear hold the only method achieve success on the offensive side of the ball.

The zone read offenses allow for designed improvisation. As if echoing the famous Miles Davis quote “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there”, the read option allows the Quarterback to navigate the white space between the lines the offensive and defensive plays. When there’s a breakdown in a designed play, the aforementioned Quarterbacks have the speed, agility and awareness to create beauty in the midst of chaos. It takes quarterbacking from the drawing board and places it on a canvas, from the boardroom to the backyard.

This new style won’t replace the conventional quarterback by any means. QBs like Aaron Rodgers and Andrew Luck who brilliantly fuse their amazing pocket presence with their unique speed are nearly impossible to contain. There’s always room for Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Big Ben and Matt Ryan.

The pocket quarterback is not going away, but it may give an opportunity to those who were overlooked and undervalued in the past. Men like Eric Crouch, Pat White, and Andre Ware would be given more of an opportunity to showcase their talent in today’s NFL.

But Kaepernick has to deliver a stand out performance. He cannot simply win, he has to be the reason the Niners bring home the title.  There are only 4 Quarterbacks who run a college system, but win could mean the expansion of this exciting offensive philosophy.

Joe Montana and Bill Walsh revolutionized the NFL by popularizing the “West Coast Offense”, Kaepernick and Harbaugh have a chance to do the same on February 3rd.  Like their predecessors, it will take the Lombardi trophy to validate their system.

Lance Armstrong will admit to using Performance Enhancing Drugs.

Barry Bonds is not in the Hall of Fame for the foreseeable future.

Tiger Woods is not the number 1 golfer in the world.

10 years ago it would have been impossible to think that those three statements would be true. Not when Barry Bonds just completed his second of 4 consecutive MVPs. Not when Tiger Woods just completed a 3-year (2000-2002) stretch of complete dominance the likes of which no golfer had ever seen. Not with Lance Armstrong dawning the cover of Sports Illustrated as Sportsman of the Year in 2002.

Barry Bonds’ waterloo came by way of BALCO, numerous Congressional Hearings and an Obstruction of Justice charge. It was a slow death that took about five years and brilliant investigative journalism that eventually crippled Bonds’ reputation.

Tiger Woods’ demise came in flash. His scorned, betrayed wife wielding a club with bad intentions drove Tiger into a ditch. When he resurfaced from the ditch he was inundated with dozens of accusations from numerous women who claimed to his mistress. Tiger’s new brand: Adulterer.

Bonds and Woods will survive their scandals.

Bonds will survive, because his abrasive attitude was never endearing to start. The media’s temporary courtship with Bonds during the later stages of his historic MVP run was always quite awkward. The guards at Buckingham Palace are more approachable than Bonds. The media and fans can live without Bonds in the public sphere. He never really wanted our admiration anyways.

Woods will survive, because he’s still an active golfer. AT&T, Accenture, Gatorade and Gillette cut ties with Woods, but even that was not enough to ruin Woods. Woods is still the main attraction on the PGA tour. Tiger is still box office. We’re captivated by his chase for Jack Nicklaus’ record. We salivate over every Tiger win. Hoping that he’s returned to old form we ask: Is Tiger back? The Tiger we’re used to seeing on the 18th hole closing in on another historic victory. The question “Is he back?” is irrelevant if we’re not nostalgic for his greatness. We need Woods.

Lance Armstrong had a much greater burden than the other two:

He was an American Hero.

Every year, Lance Armstrong traveled across the Atlantic, plastered in his yellow suit with the American flag on his helmet, shoulder or across his back. Every year for seven consecutive years, Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France. Everyone gunned for Armstrong, including his teammates. But every year around the same time, the world would be forced to concede that he was the best. Period.

Armstrong could never make cycling mainstream. He didn’t have to, he was cycling. Americans didn’t have any noteworthy history in cycling. Cycling didn’t matter unless Armstrong’s name was involved. He was bigger than the sport. We were proud when he went overseas, won every year and returned with the trophy draped in the American flag. That was the essence of his heroism. We never questioned him. Others tried, but their words conveniently fell on deaf ears.

No one bothered to discuss the pervasive doping and cheating in Cycling. Big Cycling names like Jan Ullrich, Marco Pantani and Floyd Landis didn’t mean anything to us. Armstrong was incomparable. It made sense to us that he was the cleanest sport where many of its prominent champions were suspected or guilty of doping at one time or another. It’s what made him a Hero.

And when it comes to our heroes, the use of logic is obsolete.

But Armstrong’s greatest battle and triumph took place in a hospital. Before the Seven consecutive titles he won from 1999-2005, Armstrong battled testicular cancer and survived. He used his story to raise over $500 million through the Livestrong charity. By 2012, his net worth, according to Forbes magazine, was over $125 million. The charity has helped millions of Americans, brought awareness to the importance of cancer screenings and funded extensive cancer research.

His success was a win for America and for cancer survivors across the world. Armstrong was the embodiment hope, strength and perseverance. Armstrong was a reflection of American ideals. He fought off cancer like John Wayne and then dominated a sport like Michael Jordan. It was as infallible as an American Icon could get.

Now that Lance Armstrong came cleen of his PED use his name is forever tarnished. But it makes sense. Armstrong had too much to protect. The survival of Livestrong and all of his philanthropic ventures hinged on his success and his squeaky-clean reputation. It was protecting his story as much as it was about winning the Tour de France for Armstrong, it was about maintaining the purity of his brand. His brand demanded that his name remain clean.

Deny any allegations at all costs. Never give in. There was too much at stake. At every chance remind the people who you are:

Inspiration. Humanitarian. Survivor. Rinse, wash, repeat.

Inspiration. Humanitarian. Survivor.

Those are words I could have never associated with talented prodigies like Tiger Woods and Barry Bonds (I’ll explain why he’s added later). It’s what made Armstrong unique. Bonds and Woods were aloof; men who were closer to the Gods describes in legendary epics than men in which we could relate. Isolation is not what we demand of our heroes. We want more and Lance delivered. Bond and Woods never particularly wholly embraced the adoration of their supporters. They were professionals; their goal was professional immortality. With Lance, well there was more. More we cared about, more that we wanted to embrace. There was no quantitative goal (756 Home Runs, 18 majors) that defined Armstrong like the others.

An admission to Oprah was about as well received as LeBron James’ “The Decision”. [Without the irrational backlash] Even Armstrong’s most ardent defenders have come to this conclusion: Lance Armstrong, (to borrow a phrase from Dennis Green) was not who we thought he was.

Fraud.

 

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlnlOokL–8%5D

We must protect our history.

“I may never go back to Cooperstown — it wouldn’t be a sacred hall anymore.” – Goose Gossage.

Goose Gossage is against the idea of including suspected steroid users in the Hall of Fame. He’s not alone, more than 60% of the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA) writers left Bonds, Clemens and Sosa off of their ballots. Two things motivate the writers: punishing the alleged users and protecting of the Hall of Fame. Steroid re-wrote the history books and now baseball purists are looking re-craft the narrative once again, but for whom?

We must protect our history.

“My Ancestors Are Slaves. Stolen From Africa. I Will Honor Them” – Spike Lee.

For Spike, slavery is pain, slavery is about the heroic triumph of his people, and it’s his heritage. Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” re-writes Spike’s history by cataloguing the brutality of slavery through the use of a spaghetti western. By urging others the boycott, Lee and other critics of “Django” cling to the notion that the slave narrative must be fashioned in a particular manner. 

We are a country that attempted to scrub history by removing the “n-word” from Huck Finn and slavery from the Civil War in an attempt to simplify historical narratives. Confronting nuance has never been our strong suit. But it always felt as though the national pastime’s obsession with history would allow it to maneuver the nuances of their own history.

The MLB used to be a societal trendsetter. Think about it for a second. The MLB (with an unmistakable assist from Branch Rickey) leapt ahead of American society by placing Jackie Robinson (an African-American) on a whites-only field. By the time the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, every team fielded at least one black baseball player. Far before southern society ripped down their “Whites Only” signs from schools, water fountains and other publics spaces, African-Americans stole the show on nightly basis on the baseball diamond.  

Rather than ignore the MLB’s problematic relationship with the Negro Leagues, the Hall of Fame enshrined many of the Negro League greats into the Hall of Fame. They accounted for their embarrassing policies during the early decades of their inception.

There’s a lesson to be learned from that. Let’s put some ice on that black eye.

The steroid era, however, has caused baseball writers and analysts trouble alike.  It seems as though many have agreed to usher in the “post-steroid testing” era by muting their mentions of those who prospered during the steroid era. During Miguel Cabrera’s Triple Crown season in 2012, there were many prominent journalists who proclaimed Cabrera had the greatest offensive season in the past 40 years; a slap in the face for anyone with 20/20 vision watching Barry Bonds from 2001-2004.

Baseball has lagged behind most of society when it comes to the steroid issue. Some of baseball’s prominent names are linked to Performance Enhancing Drugs: including, Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro. It’s no longer 2006, where we can delude ourselves into thinking that PEDs were limited to Bonds, Canseco, Sosa, McGwire and Clemens. Steroids were as pervasive as amphetamines in 70’s and 80’s and spitballs were in the early 20th century.

Instead of having an adult discussion about how to reconcile the steroid era, with their vote this past Wednesday has decided to redact the black mark, rather than embrace it as many of us have over the past few years. No one was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2013. It was the second time in 42 years and the first since 1996.  They would like you to believe that the careers of Barry Bonds, who holds the record for MVPs (7), Roger Clemens who holds the record for most Cy-Young award wins (7), Sammy Sosa (most 60 HR seasons) and Mike Piazza, the greatest hitting catcher are not Hall of Fame worthy.

Redacting the steroid era by omitting its best players is a counter-intuitive venture. Very few approve of the way the BBWAA handled this year’s vote. For every year we move further away from the steroid era, the closer the baseball community will have to come to embracing the PED era and its participants. The Hall of Fame voters already seem petty given their recent history: denying anyone who even hinted of PED use, Ron Santo and other absurd practices that keep deserving candidates off the first ballot. Keeping out some of the greatest players of all-time without banning them completely from baseball has the potential to ruin the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame.

Cleansing and sanitizing history into a neat narrative never works. Especially not in a social media driven society that does not follow the old static “baseball purity” narratives that are more fit for 1980s audience than one in 2013.  The Hall of Fame is the final frontier in baseball conventional wisdom. The walls are crumbling, the times are changing, hopefully they figure out before it becomes too late.

They can continue to follow a script written for yesteryear and risk irrelevancy.

Spike Lee learned very quickly after his critique of “Django Unchained”, that it wasn’t enough to just express an objection a portrayal of slavery written by a White American.  Substance and nuance was essential to any real critique of the movie and protesting the movie without viewing the movie in its entirety was insufficient for a more sophisticated public open to new ideas. Newer faces in the African-American media community, such as Toure, came out in support of the movie with an in-depth analysis of the movie more appropriate for times.

The steroid era records still stand; the numbers are still etched in books without asterisks or footnotes.  Bonds still has 7-MVP awards and Clemens still has 7 Cy Young awards.  It’s there. Tarantino will continue to collect Golden Globe and Academy Award recognition, despite the protests of a few.  Nothing will change and baseball has not and will not step in to alter those numbers.

One day Bonds, Clemens and the others will have their plaques in Cooperstown.

Until then we all get snicker at those old and out-of-touch writers of the BBWAA.

Welcome to 2013!  I’m happy you made it but PLEASE don’t read into it.  Nothing bothers me more than those elaborate 2012 reviews that casually ignore significant sports stories like Lebron James being unclutch, to Lebron the champion, to Lebron putting up 30-9-7 and no one is shocked.  They always seem to miss how bountygate became a story about Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspensions and Saints brass seems to have gotten a total pass about the bounty system THEY started and were warned about by…the Commissioner’s office.  Oh and how about the Associated Press’ Male Athlete of the Year being Michael Phelps; I understand the temptation to give it to an Olympian but to not give it to Usain Bolt is pretty egregious (USA bias?).  All of those things are best left to professionals.  I can only offer you two of my favorite things: the 2012 Commissioner of the Year award and an updated assessment of the ALL Sports Defensive Team.

2012 Commish of the Year

It’s been a busy year for the fearless leaders of the Big Four professional sports leagues in North America.  I give the Commissioner of the Year honor out to recognize the best of the most hated people in sports.  No one gives people greater angst than Tim Tebow professional sports commissioners but we should always stop and realize that they do oversee the things we love despite the fact that fans think they could do a better job with greater ease.  It should also be noted that you (yes YOU) probably cannot come close to doing their jobs because they work for the owners and you hate the owners.

This year was much harder than last year because lockouts really helped to cut down the pool by two people.  2011 saw Alan Selig storm to victory late in the year past Gary Bettman (gasp!) primarily because Selig and the MLBPA peacefully sat down and passed a collective bargaining agreement which got no media attentions because it wasn’t confrontational.  Furthermore, the deal that passed made the game more entertaining with the added wild card play in game.  Yes, instant replay is a problem and yes MLB does have the strongest players union but credit goes to the guy who provided stability and excellent playoff baseball to the views.

With that said, the final standings are:

4) Gary Bettman

Locked out again after an amazing hockey run.  Any bit of momentum created by this league is thrown away with an ease second only to the XFL.  No one respect Bettman and players have a viable alternative to hockey (though not viable in the long term).  Bettman does seem to do a good job with owners as not playing is more cost effective than playing but fielding no product is just not good enough.

3) Roger Goodell (2010 Winner)

For all my issues with how Bountygate has been misled it still has been a black eye on the commissioner’s office.  Anyone that does Adderall is apparently exempt from punishment for cheating because it’s not like football has a steroids issue. (Seriously have you seen these players?!  Don’t bother me about steroids in baseball if the NFL is loaded with muscular freaks) Oh the replacement referee debacle all falls on him and although ratings did not suffer, it’s never good business to allow less than your best to be on display.

2) Alan Selig

Not much to report other than baseball STILL has not adopted instant replay because old man Selig is old.  The changes to the playoff format, while great, were rushed through leaving glaring holes on what to do (re: one-game playoff rosters allowing for expanded slots for more pitching changes than Tony La Russa could think of).  Not a bad season just not good enough for high honors.

1)      David Stern

Started the NBA season better than anyone could’ve imagined.  For all his shortcomings (namely his world class personality), he totally embraced the bad guy role this year.  Check out the beginning of the NBA draft amid a healthy set of boos. “Woah…thank you for that warm welcome…” and the hand to the ear at the :49 second mark is stuff of pure gold.  Great season after a rough start in the lockout era and most importantly pushed through his grand idea of a “World Cup of Basketball.”  Congrats on this awards and announcing his retirement.

ALL II Defensive Squad Update

As many of you know, I defend a ton of people for pretty good reasons.  Often times these people get no credit or respect because their narrative is totally miscast by the broader media/fans.  Can’t pull a fast one by me.  It’s time to update the defensive team by sport: who’s in, who’s out, and a brief (I promise) explanation how we got here.

The National Basketball Association Wing (aka The Dirk Wing)

CURRENTLY IN: Russell Westbrook, Vinny Del Negro, Carmelo Anthony, Deron Williams (Suspended for sucking)

OUT: Chris Bosh, Erik Spolestra

Won a title and Bosh’s absence made things much harder for Los Heat to do it.  Value on display.  Second best player that playoffs for the Heat.  Spo won the chip and revolutionized line ups.

In: Mike Brown, my father Avery Johnson, Brook Lopez

Brown: Fired after five games without getting his entire healthy team on the court.  Kobe wanted the Princeton Offense.  Can’t fix being old as s**t.

Johnson: Won coach of the month the same day he was axed.  In the mist of a bad run led by an injured Lopez and career low shooting from Williams.  Got kiss of death from Williams.  Honestly a .500 team on pace to finish above .500 (by a game but still).

Lopez: underappreciated as an offensive force.  Team loses when injured.  Team wins when healthy.  Needs to get totally healthy but team is undeniably better when he is active and on the court.

The Major League Baseball Wing (aka Playing without Steroids Wing)

CURRENT: Ichiro, Carl Crawford

CHIKA CAN NEVER TALK ABOUT BASEBALL AGAIN AFTER ICHIRO’s PLATOON SPLITS WITH THE YANKEES LOOKED GREAT.

OUT: n/a

IN: Mike Scioscia, Justin Upton, Mike Trout

Scioscia is going to be under extreme pressure to win immediately after their loaded line-up missed the playoffs last year.  Smart manager.  Proven winner.  Thin ice.

Upton is the cause of great concern with his numbers regressing last season.  Many outlets are reporting that Arizona is looking to deal him (again) after signing Cody Ross.  Still like the talent that is in Upton; pure athlete that can put it together for a solid career though a jump to the American League may stunt that growth.

Trout should’ve won the MVP by MILES.  Best all-around player.  People don’t understand that defense is part of the game.  Do better.

The National Football Association Wing (aka Nate Kaeding Wing)

CURRENT: Alex Smith, Roger Goodell, Anthony “Tony” Romo, Joe Flacco

OUT: Pete Carroll, Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush

IN: Mark Sanchez

Romo is easily a top ten quarterback.  Over his career he consistently throws for 4300-4600 yards completing 65% of his passes with a 2:1 TD/INT ratio.  Yes he makes some poor decisions in huge moments but it’s not like his defense is helping him.  Winning late to make it into playoff contention should also mean something.  If Dallas thinks jettisoning Romo is going to make them better then they are bound to fail for the next five years.

Sanchez plays with no one talented.  Get that man a talented person at a skill position and then bother me.  (He is also here for comedic relief)

SO thats it.  Expect me to rant about how no one will be admitted in the Hall of Fame and I will reveal my clear cut NFL MVP which I declared in week 14.

ALL II