Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On why Soccer isn’t more popular in the US, Kareem skyhooks it

1758742ADB_DNA023133068Few understand sports in the United States like NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar. The legendary big man played for 20 years in one of the world’s most physically demanding professional sports leagues. He was a member of six NBA championship teams and earned NBA Most Valuable Player awards six times as well.

His signature shot—the Skyhook—was a deadly hook shot for which there was no defense. The 7’2” giant would put up an uncannily accurate, yet graceful shot while everyone else watched helplessly.

When a legend like this weighs in on a sports topic, his gravitas makes his opinion worth considering and in explaining why soccer hasn’t wildfired through America like it has in the rest of the world, he nails it:


Finally, soccer doesn’t fully express the American ethos as powerfully as our other popular sports. We are a country of pioneers, explorers, and contrarians who only need someone to say it can’t be done to fire us up to prove otherwise. As a result, we like to see extraordinary effort rewarded. The low scoring in soccer frustrates this American impulse. We also celebrate rugged individualism, the democratic ideal that anybody from any background can become a sports hero. We like to see heroes rise, buoyed by their teammates, but still expressing their own supreme individual skills. Certainly soccer has its celebrated stars, from Pele to Beckham, but those skills seem muted on TV where we’re often looking at small figures on a large field and therefore these feats appear less impressive than they really are. In football, basketball, baseball, and hockey, team effort is rewarded with points and individual greatness is as instant and immediate as a one-handed snagged football pass, a three-pointer from the corner, stealing home base, or a [slap]-shot of the puck into the goal.


Read the whole thing here. He’s absolutely right.

I am no “soccer hater.” All of my kids have played the sport, and two of them were on teams that won league championships. I am familiar with the rules of the game. And when any team wearing the red white and blue steps onto a field of competition, I’m right there chanting “USA! USA!”

But like a large percentage of Americans, I am altogether unimpressed with the game at the professional level. It’s therefore not hatred of soccer that explains its relative lack of popularity in this country. It’s antipathy. We just don’t care, and we don’t care for the reasons Kareem articulates so well in his op-ed at Time.

This line of thought tends to escape the talking heads on sports radio and television. They can’t seem to understand why so many Americans are uninterested in a sport that is loved elsewhere on the planet.

In her typically sarcastic, provocative manner, Anne Coulter explains the antipathy more harshly. But I think she nails a snarky skyhook with this:


You can't use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here's a great idea: Let's create a game where you're not allowed to use them!


Not only are you not able to use your hands, doing so results in a penalty. Do it inside “the box” and it results in a penalty kick, pitting a representative of the offended team against the goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation. Now that’s something Americans can take a modicum of interest in.

Many disinterested Americans don’t care about soccer because of this aspect of the game, and it’s probably sub-conscious. We built this country using our hands, and we’ve defended it using our hands. I’m typing this post with my hands. You get the idea.

While that’s probably part of the issue, I think the driving force in American antipathy towards soccer is best captured in the quote from Kareem’s essay, wherein he describes us as “pioneers, explorers, and contrarians who only need someone to say it can’t be done to fire us up to prove otherwise.”

In all of the other sports that we love so much in this country, it is the chance for individual achievement—combined with the risk of individual failure—that captivates us and makes us watch on television and sell-out stadiums. We like to see teamwork, but we like to see teams of exceptional individuals who are taking exceptional risks in displaying their exceptional talents. That’s excitement for Americans.

That’s missing in Soccer.

Being told otherwise by talking heads and those who hail from the left of the political spectrum isn’t going to change the fabric of America. We like what we like because of who we are. Pointy-headed elites telling us what we should like isn’t going to move the needle very much;, the rest of the world be damned.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Is Alabama taking a new direction with the incoming QB’s?

clip_image001Last winter, I expressed some exasperation over the game plans for Alabama’s final two games of the 2013 season. I just couldn’t believe that an Alabama team known for smashmouth football would attempt to outscore two programs using a basketball-on-grass strategy when both of those two opponents were designed to play basketball on grass.

Then came the puzzling and controversial hire of Lane Kiffen to replace Coach Nuss at the offensive coordinator slot. Kiffin, known for pro-style and West Coast type offenses is a heckuva coach and a good playcaller. He’s also a proficient recruiter and a salesman who could sell to other salesmen.

Which is why the recruitment and ultimate commitments of Jacob Coker and Blake Barnett are so curious. As CapstoneReport’s ITK points out, this signals that the Tide’s traditional offense is in for more than just a tweak or two here and there:


Think you have Alabama’s offense figured out? Think again.

Yesterday Alabama received a commitment from one of the top three dual threat quarterbacks in the country, Blake Barnett of Corona Santiago, California. Barnett, like the incoming transfer Jacob Coker, presents a different skill-set from other quarterbacks in Nick Saban’s arsenal while at Alabama.

While it’s doubtful Alabama’s new offense will stoop to bush-league tactics like the HUNH, football’s version of the cheap shot punch (then run away as fast as you can), it appears Bama is intent on standing in front of you, punching you in the mouth, then kicking you with very, very quick feet.


The emphasized statement is important. Like ITK (and probably most Bama fans), I pray that we don’t go to the trick offenses run by Auburn, Oklahoma and Oregon. We’re not geared for that, and it would take a disastrous few years to get geared for it. Just ask Rich Rodriguez how things work out when you take a team geared for downhill running and try to put in a spread-type offense.

It’s just not Alabama football. It’s not what the team is currently designed to do, and it’s not something most Bama fans would recognize as “our brand.”

More speed on the offense is never a bad thing. Nor is it a bad thing to have a QB who can turn a busted play into a first down or a TD. It is a bad thing to fundamentally rewrite the playbook and completely change strategies when you’ve been recruiting for years with the goal in mind of playing the game a certain way.

In the game of football, and especially in the SEC, the winners are usually the teams that control the ball, dominate the clock and own the line of scrimmage. Play trickster football against smashmouth football and nine times out of ten, the team with the smashmouth strategy wins.

You wanna get some additional speed to augment the physicality of your traditional brand of football, fine. But if you don’t dance with the one who brung ya, ya ain’t gonne get much time on the big dance floor.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Brett Favre: Dain Bramage or shrewd move?

The Mississippi primary runoff election is a mere five days away. Long-tooth long-term US Senator Thad Cochran is in the political fight of his life against challenger and TEA Party favorite Chris McDaniel.

Enter the US Chamber of Commerce with this ad, featuring hometown son Brett Favre, who wants Mississippians to return the old guy back for what will surely be his final tour.



Oh, goody. Another topic that blends my two most passionate issues.

Why should Favre’s endorsement mean squat in a primary race won by the challenger (but without the majority required to avoid a runoff)?

Well, because Brett Favre is from lovely Kiln, MS. It’s part of a three-county stretch between the state lines of Alabama and Louisiana. Thanks to the shipbuilding and casino industries in this stretch, the area is the second-most populous urban area in the state. It’s also solidly red, meaning that attention levels will be high in the area over the next several days.

To put it mildly, Favre is a homeboy. He enjoys tremendous popularity in the region and is treated like a rock star wherever he goes. The dude has clout.

The question is simple: Is Favre dain bramaged, or is this a shrewd and calculated move by the donor wing of the GOP to get their guy over the finish line by using a populous region’s most celebrated athlete to do a full-throated endorsement?

Granted, I believe that Cochran should have retired already. He’s uhh… getting on up there and McDaniel has shown political chops on the stump. Cochran refused to debate him and has a long record of establishmentarianism.

But y’know, getting such a beloved homeboy to speak up may turn out to be genius. The race is reportedly as tight as a drafting maneuver at Talladega. This one’s going to the finish line.

Forget about the jokes regarding Favre’s little sexting scandal. Forget about the irony of having a QB who didn’t know when to hang up the cleats endorsing a Senator who, frankly, doesn’t seem to know when to hang it up.

This little thing might produce enough votes in Jackson, Harrison and Hancock Counties to push Cochran over the goal line.

Or, it might be too little, too late and Cochran is forced into doing something Favre just couldn’t bring himself to do.

We’ll see Tuesday night.

On the controversy over the “Redskins” name

clip_image001As you are probably fully aware, the controversy over the use of the term “Redskins” for the Washington NFL franchise has reignited with greater fury than perhaps ever before. A group of Native Americans filed litigation with the US Patent and Trademark Office to have owner Dan Snyder’s trademark on the name and logo associated with the franchise revoked.

USTPO sided with the plaintiffs, ordering that the trademark be squished like a bug, reasoning that the name and logo was disparaging to a significant enough degree that it violated the Trademark Act.

The Redskins organization will no doubt appeal the decision, just as it did in 1999 when the USTPO tried to void the trademark.

This is an irresistible topic for me, because it melds two things I am passionate about: Sports and politics.

Predictably, many on the politically correct left are hailing the decision as a decisive victory for civil rights. Also predictably, many on the right (and probably a vast majority of ‘Skins fans) are deriding it as an unnecessary intrusion into an NFL owner’s right to conduct business as he sees fit.

In my opinion, I think Hotair.com’s AllahPundit has the correct take on this issue. The money quote from his post yesterday:


The weird thing about “Redskins” is that it’s so closely associated with football and the team in the public’s mind, I think, that over time the sports meaning has completely overtaken the racially derogatory meaning. If someone walked up to you today and said “What do you think of the Redskins?”, you’d assume without a second thought that he was asking you about the NFC East, not casually slurring Native Americans. Hard to argue that the word’s “disparaging” in that context. On the other hand, if you let the mark stand for that reason, then theoretically “Washington Blackskins” would and should also stand as long as it’s been in use for a long enough time that the underlying racial meaning has basically melted away.


Essentially, the argument comes down to how one would answer this question: Was there an intent to disparage Native Americans in adopting this name, or is it the intent of certain segments of the population to feel disparaged and demand action? Put another way: Was the franchise determined to disparage, or are those who claim disparagement determined to be disparaged?

AllahPundit’s angle on the question is also valid and raises another important question: Has the sports context of the name overtaken the potentially derogatory meaning, or is the derogatory meaning so overarching that it trumps the long evolution of the sports context?

If the USTPO decision is upheld during the federal appeals process (the mark remains enforceable throughout the appeals process), then Snyder will have no good business choice than to change the name of the team. Otherwise, he stands to lose precious sums of money from the inability to protect the trademark. Plus, his well-known obstinance means that he’s probably taking this all the way. He ain’t gonna quit.

It will be years yet before this matter is finally settled but my exit question is simply this:If there is no intent to offend, why can’t we as a society simply choose not to be offended?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

NLRB ruling is a tempest in a teapot

By now, everyone has learned of the National Labor Relations Board regional director’s opinion that Northwestern University athletes are employees of the institution and therefore eligible to unionize, if they so desire.

The ensuing uproar and bandwidth consumed by the media coverage is much ado about nothing. Here’s why.

First, this was a ruling by a lower level administrative law judge, whose jurisdiction stops at the borders of his region. It has no effect whatsoever on schools in the Pacific Northwest, East Coast or Southeast. When Northwestern appeals to the entire NLRB in Washington, DC, then that board’s decision will have national consequences.

Even then, Northwestern or the would-be player’s union has the right of appeal to a US Federal District Judge, whose decision is certainly to be appealed to the Circuit Court of Appeals. That decision is then subject to review by the US Supreme Court.

We are looking at years of litigation, so don’t expect to see groundbreaking on union halls on college campuses anytime soon.

Second, the NLRB has jurisdiction over private organizations. Northwestern is a private school in Illinois. The ruling has absolutely no effect on public schools, regardless of their location. Northwestern and Notre Dame are in play. But Illinois is not. The Big 10 is not affected in any way, either.

Last and most importantly, the ruling has no effect on NCAA rules, either. If a player receives extra benefits not provided to the student body as a whole—consisting of anything of value—that player’s eligibility is revoked and the relationship between the institution and the player ends right there.

Summing it all up: We have a 20-page decision by a single administrative law judge that will be subject to years of litigation and appeals. It affects the small percentage of private schools in college athletics and regardless of the eventual outcome of this process, it will have no effect on the overarching governance of the NCAA rulebook.

I don’t see what all the ruckus is about, do you?

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