Category Archives: Sports

Growing Old Together

 

The first time I saw Aaron Lewis sing live was in 2001, a small venue in Hartford with the post-grunge metal band Staind. I was there to see the opening band, a weird, somewhat goth alternative band called Cold that has since descended into obscurity.

Not long after that show the songs “It’s Been Awhile” and “Outside” turned Staind into one of the biggest rock bands in the world and I’ve seen them play countless times since, Aaron Lewis becoming one of my favorite rock singers as the band’s sound and lyrics matured, marriages and kids mellowing them and mirroring my own life. After leaving the band to pursue a solo career he became one of my favorite country music artists. At a recent concert I remarked to one of the people that I was with that he and I “were growing old together.”

 

growing old together

 

I’ve never cared much for “celebrity culture.” I don’t care who’s dating who, who’s feuding with who, what anybody famous is doing in their spare time. I have some athletes that I refuse to cheer for, others that I do. Sometimes the reasons make sense, other times they don’t.

Sometimes there are just people who’s careers seem to be on similar timelines with us.  Ice Cube has gone from angry young rapper to cuddly curmudgeon, Will Smith from novelty act to Oscar nominee, Sylvester Stallone from action hero to grizzled mentor.

This weekend Tiger Woods will continue his attempt at another comeback from multiple back surgeries, playing a Masters tournament that he first won in 1997.  He’s 42, has a fused back that will never allow him to hit the ball as far as he did when he was dominating the tour, hasn’t won in five years, and has had some pretty well documented personal struggles. Vegas odds makers currently have him as the favorite to win.

Should he be? Probably not, but wagers are what move that line, and there are a lot of people my age with more dollars than sense, those of us that picked up a club because of Tiger and now have a hard time swinging it. Golf is still considered an old man’s sport, but I think that the reasons for that are often overlooked. You can play  with your friends, three if you are lucky, or you can play alone as I usually do, competing against nothing but your usual score. Its great if you can do better than your buddy, but more than that a good day golfing is about improvement. I no longer need to be better than anybody else, just a little bit better than I used to be.

I’ve never met Tiger, never met Aaron Lewis, but I want them to succeed, to overcome their demons and their ages, to reinvent themselves and maybe to think for a minute that I can do the same.

 

 

 

Olympic Ambivalence

 

The 2018  Winter Olympics are now officially underway, the opening ceremonies from Pyeongchang, South Korea were visually stunning, the commentary from Mike Tirico and Katie Couric more restrained and intelligent than is sometimes the case at these events. Other than the awkwardness of Vice President Mike Pence refusing to stand for the united Korean team while sitting next to Kim Jong Un’s sister the spirit of international competition and sportsmanship seems off to a good start.

I’ll confess to having a hard time summoning interest, to finding others that seem interested.

I used to be, used to look forward to these games as much as any other sporting event on the calendar.

1984 was the year that I really first started paying attention. The summer games were held in Los Angeles meaning that all the good stuff happened at times where we could watch it live. I was at my grandparent’s house and that was all we watched the entire week. Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses were setting records, Mary Lou Retton became a house hold name long before just about anybody was able to be and Bobby Knight coached some up and coming basketball players  named Michael Jordan and Patrick Ewing to a gold medal eight years before the formation of the first Dream Team.

It was the winter games though, held in Sarejevo, where I first realized how important these were to some people. In those days we got a whole week off from school for February vacation and once again I was spending the week with my grandparents, once again we watched from the opening ceremony on. The star power wasn’t the same, Scott Hamilton and Torvill and Dean the only names that I’d recognize now, but what these games had that the summer didn’t was participation by the Soviet Union, a country hated by my Lithuanian grandparents with a vitriol I was too young to fully understand.

What I understood was that they were the bad guys and the United States were the good guys. I kept a small notebook and studiously kept track of the medal counts, updating it with the results from the previous night every morning. It was years later before we found out that the Easts Germans and Soviet athletes were all artificially enhanced but I remember our disappointment at the American poor showing.

I try to get my daughter interested but other than to ask if I can take her ice skating, skiing or bobsledding some time she just wants to know when we are going to put “her shows” back on. After my promises that there wouldn’t be any more football on Sundays I think she feels tricked. She understands team sports, needs to know which color jersey to root for. Friday night was spent learning about other countries and cultures at a Girl Scout event called “World Thinking Day.” It seems off somehow to follow that up with a weekend of hyper-nationalism.

She’s still a few years too young to appreciate the years of hard work and dedication of these athletes, to marvel at what they are accomplishing, but that doesn’t explain my ambivalence.

I’m as patriotic as the next guy. We said the Pledge of Allegiance before her scouting event, stand for the Anthem and have a flag waving in our front yard. Its fun to hate the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers but don’t need an artificial “bad guy” to appreciate sports or feats of athletic excellence.

The truth is that I don’t know, a somewhat anticlimactic end to this post, I know. Maybe it’s the lack of NHL players in the hockey tournament or any other names that I recognize. Maybe the Korean setting reminds me of the jingoism of our leaders and the apocalyptic consequences that could result from too much national pride. Maybe I’m just sick of this damn winter and don’t feel like watching other people have more fun in the snow than I’ve had.

Anybody else feeling this way?

 

 

Making Football Great Again

 

It’s a bit of a somber day today, the first Sunday without NFL football since the beginning of last August. The Pro Bowl will be played later today, an exhibition that may hold some interest for the friends and family of the players involved, but the sad truth is that after next weekend’s Super Bowl we enter that weird part of the sporting world’s calendar where there is not much to do but feign interest in baseball’s spring training and hope that our NBA and NHL teams are among the half of those leagues that qualify for their several month long playoffs.

WWE founder and chairman Vince McMahon wants to change that, using $100 million of his own money to re-start the XFL, a second professional football league that played for one season in 2001. It will have eight teams and play a ten week schedule starting in 2020.

 

making football great again

 

This time around the XFL will be supposedly be different, without all the foolishness that made it hard to take seriously the first time around. Details are still forthcoming but McMahon promises a simpler game, with less downtime and games that should finish about an hour faster than those of the NFL.

He’s also making some rules, rules that as sole owner of the league he is completely within his rights to implement.

A person’s character, based apparently on his interpretation of it, will determine whether or not they get to play. Anybody that’s ever been arrested, conviction or not, is immediately disqualified. These past several weeks of workouts and strict adherence to the Tom Brady Cookbook apparently in vain as my final attempt at sports glory ended before they ever really began.

All players will also be required to stand for the National Anthem, saying that “people don’t want social and political issues coming into play when they are trying to be entertained” and “we want somebody who wants to take a knee to do their version of that on their personal time.”

I’ve never been a big fan of this particular form of protest. I’ve even more so never been a fan of those telling these players that they can’t. I appreciate Mr McMahon’s and every other employer’s right to impose whatever rules, within reason, that they feel might influence the success of their business.

It’s certainly not my place to question the business acumen of a billionaire, but I’ll admit to wondering if Mr McMahon might be reading the room incorrectly in this case. I do know some people that were boycotting the NFL this year, and even a local bar that refused to show the games on Sundays. I decided to boycott that bar.

The last time around the XFL was seen as an alternative to the buttoned down, too conservative NFL that was increasingly legislating out the fun and hard hits that had made the league so popular too begin with. Is this new incarnation a reaction to a perceived liberalism that some see as the reason for a 17% drop in ratings over the past two seasons?

The truth is that I’m not sure, no longer comfortable assuming that I know how reasonable people think anymore, or that there are that many of them. The truth is that NFL players are arrested much less frequently than than the general population but I’m just as guilty about writing more about Adrian Peterson than about the the good guys in the league as anybody else. I don’t know how many people even pay attention to the Anthem or just have strong ideas about what should happen when it’s played.

I know that football in America still draws more viewers than any other televised event and that ratings are down across all sports and all programming, the amount of competition for viewership and attention unprecedented.

I also know that people won’t watch mediocre or bad football without some sort of emotional attachment. I still watch the Miami Dolphins (mediocre) and the Uconn Huskies (bad) because they are my teams. During the one year that the United Football League was in existence I attended a Hartford Colonials game because it was local. If the XFL isn’t coming to a city near me I’m going to have a hard time gathering all that much enthusiasm.

 

her first tailgate

 

Will I watch? It’s hard to say. I love the game but have no problem admitting my feelings of hypocrisy for doing so, the inherent cop out that I have by having  daughters and being able to avoid any decision about whether or not to allow my child to play. That CTE and player injuries weigh heavier on my mind than they used to.

I’ll admit that a distaste for Vince McMahon and the direction that that WWE has gone in since the days of my childhood and my own memories of Hulk Hogan and others of that era clouds my perception. That I can’t ignore the fact that our current President  once body slammed him and shaved his head as part of WrestleMania 23 or that his wife now holds a cabinet position as Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

 

making football great again
sitting US President and WWE Hall of Famer

 

Apparently this is where we are at America, so divided by partisanship and ideology that even the prospect of watching a few extra months of football now requires a decision about whether or not we are going against our principles by supporting it.

How did this happen?

 

A Silent Sideline

 

This Saturday was spent, as it feels like every Saturday has been for the past ten years, watching one of the kids participate in a youth sporting contest.

There was a different feel to this particular game, quieter, more subdued.  A certain usually boisterous father uncharacteristically keeping his big mouth somewhat shut for a change.

The reason for this silencing was an e-mail from the soccer league earlier in the week informing parents of a new “silent sideline” rule that had been implemented. Applause for good play was still allowed but other than that we were basically told to stand there and shut up.

The reasoning seemed valid. The stated goals being the development of player on field decision making without sideline intervention, improving the player’s communication with each other by reducing the outside noise level, and supporting and aiding in youth referee retention by eliminating dissension from spectators.

 

silent sideline

 

The reasons were valid but I hated it. Hated it and found myself unable to comply. I understand the need to let the coaches coach, try not to yell instructions at my kid during the game. I understand that these referees are all volunteers, feel that I do a pretty good job of not telling them about their mistakes. I’ve never mocked an opposing player for poor play or scolded one of ours.

I yell things like “nice job”, “nice try”, “nice pass!”  Sometimes I yell “get ready defense”, “spread out girls”, “you’re going the wrong way!”

 

silent sideline

 

Anybody that has spent any time at these games has come across the kinds of parents that these rules are intended to curtail. Jackasses that yell at their kids, that yell at the refs, that embarrass themselves and their children. Maybe I’ve just been fortunate, but I’ve found those situations to be very rare.

The e-mail stated that this change had come at the request of a player, leading me to believe that there was some parent at some level of competition that was acting like a fool. I’m fairly confident that it wasn’t me.

As uncomfortable a conversation that I would imagine that to be, I think that the coaches involved in that game should have taken that parent aside and talked to them. Further occurrences could lead to the removal of that child from the team, an unfortunate result that I would hope any reasonable parent would try their best to avoid.

I tried, I really did, and I think it was the quietest I’ve been as a spectator of any sporting contest that I’ve ever attended outside of a PGA golf tournament and even at that I went as nuts as anybody when Notah Begay dropped a twenty five foot birdie putt on the final hole to win.

My daughter is six, playing a sport she’s not very familiar with, and she’s busting her butt, hustling every play, getting better every week. All these girls are. I can give them high fives and words of praise at halftime and after the game but is that really all that fun for anybody, all that exciting to little girls that deserve to be cheered, need that encouragement?

I’ll bite my lip, do my best to tone it down a bit, try and honor the league’s wishes as best I can but if a “silent sideline” is really the result that is ultimately desired I’m probably going to need a muzzle.

 

 

 

How Much Should Sports Matter?

 

I’m both honored and blessed to have readers from all over the world, but I know that much of my core audience resides here in New England, know that many of you, like me, are sports fans. I know that the devastating injury to Gordon Hayward has completely changed your expectations for the Boston Celtics this year, the early playoff exit once again for the red Sox, combined with the New York Yankees success, is causing you emotional pain. What I don’t know, but what I can guess, what I can extrapolate from  my own feelings, is how there is a part of you that is not sure how to feel about how much these things bother you. With so much going on in the world, so much tragedy and pain, what the hell is wrong with us that we get this upset about a game, a game that in the big picture really holds so little meaning?

For those that don’t know what I’m talking about, Hayward suffered a fracture/dislocation of his ankle 315 seconds into his Celitcs career. The Red Sox were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs for consecutive years, their manager fired.

Should any of this matter in a time of Harvey Weinstein, North Korea, and Puerto Rico?

It does. It does because sometimes even those of us that consider themselves well informed, that pay attention to what’s going on in the world around us, that are trying to make some sort of little difference, need to turn it off, to watch something besides the ever depressing news channels.

It’s why I understand those that complain about the anthem protests  from the perspective of not wanting politics to intrude on their escape. It’s part of what makes it an effective protest, an uncomfortableness in having to think about issues at a time when we are trying to escape them.

Rather than boycott the NFL as some people are now doing, my wife and I took a different approach, planning an entire vacation around games that our teams were playing in Tampa Bay and Miami, Florida.

 

should sports matter?

 

I’ll admit that we missed the anthem at both games. Food, beer and poor time management leading to us arriving at our seats afterward. We didn’t know what the players did, didn’t know what the crowd did, just knew that for the next three hours anybody in that stadium wearing the same colors as us were on our side.

After my wedding and the birth of my child, of course, some of my happiest moments have come based on grown men playing children’s games and celebrating those moments with those around me. The Dave Roberts steal, the 12th inning home run by David Ortiz in that same game, the final out of the 2004 World Series, the 24 point comeback by the Celtics against the Lakers in game four of the 2008 NBA Finals. To this day I’ve never seen my father more excited and animated than when Tate George hit his game winning shot for the UConn  Huskies in the 1990 NCAA tournament and he’s not even that big of a sports fan.

Is it silly, an unnecessary expenditure of energy and emotion that would be better served directed elsewhere?

Of course. That’s kind of the point.

 

how much should sports matter