Category Archives: Sports

Playing Hard, Kicking Tail

 

We had our last softball game of the season this past weekend, Alaina’s inaugural attempts at the sport an overall success. Having bypassed T-ball for coach-pitch she still needs some work on her swing and gets confused about where to throw the ball after fielding it, but she’s shown a cannon for an arm and no longer thinks that the goal of the game is to out race her teammates to every ball that is put in play.

 

our love of sports

 

There were no participation trophies given out, but had there been I would have let her keep hers and she would have displayed it proudly. Contrary to the recent statements from Washington Nationals star Bryce Howard, one of the best players in the game and presumably not somebody that came in second place very often, I’m not worried  that six and seven year year olds will never be motivated to succeed if they know that their efforts will be praised regardless of outcome.

I would have told her that she got the trophy because of her hustle. That even thought the third baseman doesn’t need to retrieve foul balls near the visitor’s dugout, she was running hard. I would have commended her sportsmanship, reminding her that while running the bases we don’t pick up a ball hit by a teammate and hand it to the opposing players. I would have told her how proud I was of her hard work, all the hours spent in the backyard practicing, the innings spent at catcher after she determined that would be the best way to improve that aspect of her game, the dramatic improvement shown in a relatively short time.

I told her all those things anyway. We didn’t keep score in any of her games and she never asked for one. Teaching was the goal, not winning.  She learned a lot.

 

love of the games

 

Also in the last week was “field day”, the town’s kindergartners and first graders massing on the athletic fields for various “stations” of outdoor recreation. There were no “three legged” or “potato sack” races, very little in the way of competition actually, with no ribbons awarded. The only activity with winners and losers was a wet sponge relay race that embarrassingly ended in a shoving match between my kid and a little boy from the winning team that she felt was gloating a bit too enthusiastically to some of her slower teammates. She was reprimanded and reminded to keep her hands to herself but I’ll admit to having to hide a small smile of pride while doing so.

How successful I was is uncertain but I made no such attempt at the next station, an un-timed obstacle course set up for them to traverse at their own pace. There weren’t meant to be winners or losers but Alaina and that same kid treated the course as if Olympic gold medals were at stake. They both were convinced that they were able to get through it the fastest but this was indeterminable and there was no repeat scuffle.

 

school field day

 

For now her cleats and glove will be packed away, not too deep in case one of our nights at the minor league park inspires us to some backyard batting practice or I talk her into a game of catch. In the fall another set of gear will be dug out, soccer registration mailed in just as her big sister is about to hang up her own cleats.

She went out with a bang. This past season has seen Kayla’s playing time dramatically decreased, a several year hiatus and accompanying conditioning loss relegating her to defensive back-up status.

That hasn’t stop her from making the most of her time out there though, her hustle and effort impressing.  Last weekend her squad participated in a full day, four game tournament that meant a lot of extra time on the pitch, conditioning tested for both players and spectators alike.  I didn’t last the entire day but did return in time for one of her prouder moments in a long time. She didn’t score a goal or prevent one, didn’t do anything that anybody else watching would have thought significant. She just knocked a dude on his ass.

The kid was one of the better players on the other team, looked about twenty five and brought it on himself. Streaking up the field he had a teammate wide open for the cross and instead chose to challenge the girl coming up to defend. Perhaps thinking that he was going to run right by her and continue on to glory, the look of surprise on his face as he looked up at the clouds was matched only by the smile on hers.

 

love of sports

 

Competitiveness is an important quality, one that should be encouraged to prepare our children for future success. Just as important though, sports foster a desire for self-improvement, a mindset of always striving to do better then YOU did before, not just being better than the other players. Sometimes they will win, other times lose. There may be first place trophies, participation trophies or no trophies at all.  As long as they are working hard and striving to be better, I think that the real lessons of youth sports are being learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Perceived Arrogance of Boston and the Political Elite

 

perceived arrogance

 

I think that  even the most ardent of Red Sox haters would agree that Fenway Park is a pretty cool place to watch a baseball game. It’s a national treasure, one of the most recognizable sports venues in the world. Fenway is the oldest ballpark in Major League Baseball, opening in 1917, and also one of the smallest, a full capacity of just over 37,000.

Baltimore Orioles outfielder Adam Jones has a much less positive opinion of the park, having been subject to racial taunts and a thrown peanut bag during a game on May first.

It was an unfortunate incident, an embarrassment for the Red Sox and it’s fans, but not one that I found overly surprising. Not because of any prejudice that might be held by the people of Boston, but because anytime that you put 37,000 people in one place and give the majority of them copious amounts of watered down beer, there are going to be some that behave poorly. This just seems a mathematical probability, something that happens in all sports and in all stadiums.  According to the Society for American Baseball Research, 36.3% of major league players were something other than American born and white, but just 6.7% were African American.  As reprehensible as it is, it stands to reason that these players, being such a minority, would be singled out by ignorant, intoxicated miscreants.

In any city or stadium.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the narrative in the three weeks since the incident. What should have been a discussion about efforts made to try and discourage this type of behavior, both in the stands and everywhere else in society, has instead turned into another opportunity to label the city and it’s fans as racist. Players from other teams, CC Sebathia, Torii Hunter and others have been trotted out to tell stories of abuse hurled their way by unruly Bostonians. Once again we are reminded that the Red Sox were the last team in the league to field a black player, a signing that occurred in 1959 and hardly seems relevant to current perceptions.

So why won’t this story, this perception go away?

I think that for many it’s simply an easy way to insult, as lazy and unimaginative as the slurs yelled by the occasional bigoted jackass. Boston’s teams have been among the most successful in all of sports and their fans aren’t afraid to remind others of this. The city is home to elite colleges and hospitals. Thought to be among the most progressive in the nation, Massachusetts is squarely “blue state” in a time when that seems to have become synonymous with “elitist arrogance.”

A lot of people seem to think that we think that we’re better than them, and there is nothing more satisfying than finding ways to prove somebody like that wrong.

 

Its a lesson that I think politicians would be wise to learn. I’m convinced Al Gore, John Kerry, and Mitt Romney all lost their Presidential elections in part because to a large segment of the population they were just too unlikable, they presented themselves as arrogant and smug, smarter than anybody else in the room.  When Hillary Clinton rolled her eyes and smirked at Donald Trump’s incoherency during last year’s debates she was perceived as inferring that he was beneath her attention. She helped make an elitist narcissist appear relatable, a limited vocabulary and knowledge of the issues suddenly a benefit to his popularity, a stark contrast to her attitude of superiority.

Take a moment and think about the people you dislike the most, be they athletes, celebrities, politicians, co workers or the fan bases of certain sports teams. The majority of them are people that you feel hold themselves in higher regard than they do you.

 

Later this evening the NBA’s Boston Celtics will host the Cleveland Cavaliers in game one of the Eastern Conference finals.  In the stands will be plenty of people in brand new Kelly Olynyk jerseys. Olynyk was the improbable hero of the Celtic’s victory over the Washington Wizards, the reason why the team was able to advance to face the Cavaliers. A gritty reserve player, Olynyk came off the bench to score twenty six points, twelve of those over a pivotal three and a half minute stretch in the fourth quarter.  Undoubtedly there will be inferences about his new found popularity in Boston being in part due to the fact that he is a white player.

Boston will be huge underdogs in this series. The Cavaliers are led by Lebron James, considered by most to be the greatest basketball player on the planet right now. No matter who he was playing I’d be among those rooting for him to lose, aggravated by my perception of him as somebody that has no problem putting himself onto that pedestal.

I hate people like that.

 

Adrian Peterson? F That Guy

 

I’ll begin with full disclosure.  Not long after buying our house, myself, my wife and her daughter were grocery shopping and the trip wasn’t going very well.  K was around six at the time and was acting terribly, screaming at her mother for reasons that I honestly can’t recall.

Trying to get her attention, I “flicked” her ear, one of those thumb and index finger snaps that smarts for a second but isn’t intended to really hurt. She howled. She howled like I had just cut the entire lobe off. To this day I don’t know if it was pain or surprise, but my first attempt at establishing myself as a disciplinary figure was a complete failure.

Her sister was much younger when she got her surprise.  Old enough to know that she wasn’t supposed to bite, but young enough to not fully understand why.  She toddled over to me, clamped down on my forearm with more force than I’d have thought possible and seemed determined to remove a large portion.

She may have but for a reflexive smack across her bottom that surprised me as much as it did her.  She didn’t cry but her eyes and mouth both went wide.  A stern talk about not hurting others followed, the first but not last bit of hypocritical parenting that I’ve done.

 

I make these confessions because I’ve spent the last few days listening to people call into local sports talk radio and try and defend spanking as a legitimate disciplinary tool, to defend the actions of free agent running back  Adrian Peterson.  Peterson, if you aren’t aware, was suspended most of the 2014 season after accepting a plea deal with the state of Texas mandating counseling and dropping from a felony to a misdemeanor charges of child abuse.

The charges against Peterson originated because he beat his four year old son with a tree branch, causing cuts and bruises to his thighs, back, and testicles. The child told authorities that he had been previously punched in the face and that the leaves from the switch were shoved in his mouth to prevent any further crying out. This took place in Peterson’s “whooping room”, a dedicated area of the house just for punishment.

There have also been allegations of Peterson leaving a scar over another son’s eye for cursing.  His response was that he “never imagined being in a position where the world is judging my parenting skills or calling me a child abuser because of the discipline I administered to my son.” He has yet to express any remorse of admission of wrongdoing. These are pictures of a four year old boy taken four days later.

 

AP = POS
Houston Police Department

 

I bring up a case from three years ago because Peterson is now unemployed after the Minnesota Vikings declined to pick up an $18 million option for the upcoming season, an absurd number for a 32 year old running back with a history of knee problems.

I bring up the case because over the past several days Peterson has been visiting with The New England Patriots, the reigning Super Bowl Champions. For various reasons the Patriots aren’t my team, but Boston is my city, home to my Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins. I recently wrote a piece defending it’s fans after they were generalized by several ESPN hosts as racist but I’m having a much harder time justifying  their defense of the team even taking a look at this guy. I understand wanting to win, wanting to have the best players on your team; any fan would.  I don’t understand selling your soul, rooting for an over the hill piece of garbage that should never see the field again.

 

I understand not wanting to judge another person’s parenting. We’ve all had days that we wouldn’t want paraded before the court of public opinion.

What we don’t all have, what no rational human being would have, is a “whooping room”, a collection of switches, or small children with dozens of lacerations across their legs and back. We don’t have a reason to welcome the sort of guy that does onto our favorite team.

As of this writing the Patriots haven’t signed Peterson, nor is there any real indication that they will.  I think that working him out was a bad look for a team that has a reputation, justified or not, of doing anything possible to win, but also understand that their job is to do precisely that.

That doesn’t mean that fans need to blindly accept everything done in that pursuit however.  Sports talk radio callers should never be considered a proper representation of a fan base but I’m still disgusted and saddened by what I’ve been hearing. I’m hoping that most in this area would echo the opinion of my wife, a true Patriots fan, administrator of multiple New England Sports Facebook pages, and voice of the people:

“Adrian Peterson? Fuck that guy.”

 

do the right thing pats
the true voice of Pats Nation

 

 

 

Who We Choose To Cheer

 

One of my favorite sports weekends of the year is the NFL’s Wild Card round, this past weekend being extra special as my Miami Dolphins were participants for the first time since 2008.  They got manhandled, too many injured players leading to a 30-12 drubbing and prompting many to question why I’m a fan of theirs to begin with.  I’ve lived in New England all my life, all of my other teams are based in Boston.  What’s the story?

As a young kid just starting to become interested in watching sports, I wasn’t concerned with regional loyalties or what teams my friends liked. I wanted to watch the guys that were fun to watch. In those days that was a long haired quarterback named Dan Marino chucking the football all over the field to wide receivers Mark Clayton and Mark Duper.  Thirty five years later I’m still waiting for them to reward my loyalty with some sustained success.

 

Who we root for
we won this one!

 

How we choose what teams, and more precisely, which players, we root for has been on my mind a lot these past few days.

Last Tuesday the NBA’s Boston Celtics hosted the Utah Jazz, defeating them 155-104.  The biggest stories to come out of the contest were before hand, Celtics fans cheering for Utah’s upcoming free agent Gordon Hayward, and after the game, when current Celtic starting forward Jae Crowder voiced his displeasure about the reaction to reporters and went on a Trumpian twitter spree.

What started as a disgruntled player feeling disrespected by fans that would like to see him replaced soon turned into something much different.  Members of the national media, including ESPN’s Bomani Jones and Israel Gutierrez suggesting that Boston fans wouldn’t only rather have Hayward than Crowder because they think he’s a better player, but because he’s white.  Jake O’Donnell of SportsGrid.com going so far as to call Boston fans “gross.”

It’s an idiotic premise, but one that is good for debate and inciting emotion, two things that sports coverage, like just about every other corner of the news world, seems to be more dedicated to than actual reporting.

I don’t think that anybody would disagree with the notion that sports fandom is itself inherently illogical.  Those players I watched as a kid are long gone but I still find myself emotionally involved in the success or failure of other guys, strangers all, that are playing games wearing the same jersey.

Our reasons for liking individual players can sometimes make sense.  There are players that simply awe us with their skill level.  Michael Jordan, Walter Peyton, Ken Griffey Jr  or Serena Williams.  Other times it is the player’s backstory that appeals to us.  Monica Seles returning after an on-court stabbing or Josh Hamilton’s battles back from addiction.  When he was just a gritty, hardworking rebounder with the San Antonio Spurs and not yet a cartoon character I always enjoyed watching Dennis Rodman play.

Sometimes they make less sense.  I don’t watch much NASCAR but my favorite driver would be Joey Lagano because he’s from Connecticut.  On the PGA tour I like Bubba Watson because it’s fun to say Bubba.  Shaquille O’neal has always been entertaining but my favorite non-Celtic center of all time is Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis – because he’s Lithuanian, of course.

 

Who We Cheer For
The Legend

 

The one thing that we all want is to have the players on our teams that will give us the best chance to win.

I’d personally rather keep Jae Crowder’s defense over the extra scoring we’d get with Gordon Hayward and don’t like the idea of cheering for any opposing player when they come onto our court, but there is a lot to like about a 26 year old player averaging 22.4 points and 6 rebounds a game, especially compared to Crowder’s 12.7 and 5.

There are a number of other reasons that some might like Hayward better.  He grew up in Indiana, the same as Celtic legend Larry Bird.  He played his college ball at Butler under current Celtic coach Brad Stevens.  Maybe some people like that he’s a tennis player or that he’s a twin.

Chances are there really are some that would just rather have a white small forward on the team than a black one. To assume that the majority feel that way is not only insulting but ignores the simple truth about who we choose to cheer for : it often makes very little sense at all.

 

 

 

 

Ballers Are Parents Too

 

I don’t do this very often, but every few years or so a day comes along when for one reason or another, I’m just not in the mood to go to work. No matter what I’m actually doing, I’ve found that “belly issues” always makes the best excuse for not coming in. It evokes instant sympathy, nobody wants to be anywhere near you, and there usually are no further questions.

It’s probably the excuse new Boston Celtic Al Horford should have used when missing Monday night’s game against the Miami Heat for “personal reasons.” This is Horford’s first year as a Celtic, signing a four year, $113 million deal this off season and greatly raising expectations for the team. Having already missed nine of the first sixteen games with a concussion, many in town felt that with a contract like that he needed to be out on the court, even after hearing what his “personal reasons” were.

 

horford-2

 

His reason turned out to be the birth of his second child, a daughter named Alia. The main source of contention being that since she had been born Sunday night in Atlanta, he really had no excuse to not be on the court Monday in Miami, a short flight away.

Personally, I think he should have skipped Wednesday night’s game against the Pistons as well. Under the collective bargaining agreement of the WNBA, the women’s professional basketball league, players who become pregnant have no time limit set for when they are expected to return and are paid 50% of their salary for as long as they are absent. Most resume practice after eight weeks and return to playing a month after that. Some of this discrepancy in expectation can be attributed to the physical demands and recovery from childbirth, but how much is also the notion that it is more important for a newborn to have this early bonding time with its mother than with its father? Sheryl Swoopes, the very first player signed to the league in 1997, missed the first six weeks of the inaugural season after giving birth to her son and was lauded for how well she played upon return. Al Horford was criticized for taking off a single game out of 82.

 

swoopes

 

According to a 2012 report by the Department of Labor, nine out of ten US fathers take time off from work after the birth of their child or in order to adopt a child.  Only 13% of these were paid paternal leave and 70% were forced to take ten days or less off. Right now California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are the only states that provide paid family leave to both fathers and mothers equally and only 14% of US employers provide it voluntarily, almost all in white collar, high income professions.

Becoming a parent is never more real than in the first days and weeks after the baby arrives. Having both parents home during this time provides so many obvious benefits for the entire family, both short and long term, that it’s nonsensical to demand fathers immediately return to the workforce. This is no longer our only role and it’s time for that to be recognized. 79 of the 167 countries in the world provide paid paternity leave. We need to start appreciating the new realities of fatherhood here as well.