Monday, July 12, 2010

Hall of Shame

You have got to be kidding me. The Pro Football Hall of Fame is becoming a bad joke.

Today it was announced that Chris Berman would be inducted as the recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award.

This would not be that egregious of an issue if 1 – if the award weren’t given such a prominent place in the building, 2 – so many deserving players and coaches weren’t on the outside looking in 3 – if Berman had done anything of substance other than stupid nicknames for the past 20 years.

I was pretty much unaware of the award up until my visit to the Hall last season. And chances were would have missed the plaque entirely if it were anywhere else in the building with is overflowing with NFL history.

But there it is, right on the 1st floor as you enter the building, before you start to ascend the spiral ramp to the main museum area. Before you get to the greats of the game, you pay your respects to the media? How is that right. But there it is, with such luminaries as Peter King and Dr. Z listed before the Lombardis, Paytons and Montanas.

To me this is a problem. When a writer such as Peter King can proclaim that a player such as Ray Guy didn’t have enough of an impact on the game to deserve enshrinement, how can he in good conscience accept a prominent place in the hall? Is writing about Mary Beth’s softball exploits or Starbucks coffee more impactful that ensuring your defense great field position?

The roster of deserving players and coaches who are on the outside looking in would field a team that would run roughshod over the league. Ken Stabler throwing to Tim Brown, Chris Carter and Sterling Sharpe in a Don Coryall offense. Dermonti Dawson, Steve Wisnewski, Howard Mudd, Jerry Kramer opening holes for Bo Jackson and Terrel Davis following Alan Ameche. Alex Karras, Jim Marshall, Richard Dent up front on defense. Steve Tasker flying down the field under Ray Guy punts and any kicker you may want (as there are none in the hall) kick offs. I could go on and on.

Instead Brett Favre’s official jock cleaner, Peter King, gets a place of prominence.

Now joining King is none other than Chris Berman, who’s act got tired 2 seasons after it started. A guy who’s most notable contribution to the game is bad nicknames and “HE..COULD..GO..ALL..THE..WAY”, pathetic. Would the NFL be any less popular now had we never been introduced to Natrone Means “Business”, rather than just plain of Natrone Means? Would the Bills failures been any less heartbreaking/hilarious had we never learned of their proficiency in circling the wagons?

I would argue that the league would be in better shape had Berman not done so much to dumb down the discussion of the game. His buffoonery overshadowed otherwise great play, turning the sportscaster into a celebrity, rather than a conduit for information.

If the Hall of Fame is going to display the names of men like Berman and King, it should be reserved for a wing where others of their ilk could reside. Others like the Raiderettes and Cowgirls. Those who appease the casual fan while waving pom-poms for their favorite quarterback the way King has for Favre and Berman for Kelly.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Soccer is now America's Game? Don't fool yourself

I know I’m a week late on this, but I’ve been looking for a new house and traveling for the 4th of July weekend. But lost in all the hoopla over Landon Donovan’s incredible goal to send the US to the knock out round of the world cup is one simple thing. Nothing has changed.

Before I get labeled as a Soccer hater, let me say that I enjoy watching an occasional game. When it comes right down to it, I follow football religiously, love hockey and will seek out games to watch and that’s just about it. No baseball on TV, I go to a game about once a year with friends or family, no basketball at all and will put a NASCAR race on to help me nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon. So you could almost say I like Soccer since I’ll watch the world cup and enjoy it.

Perhaps some of my reluctance to accept the proclamation that the US finally has it’s defining soccer moment that will change the way the sport is viewed in this country has to do with my experience with the sport. I went to High School in a soccer mad town. The Soccer team was regularly one of the best in the state, and up until my Sophomore year the football team was a joke.

Despite that, I felt that the Soccer jocks still harbored an inferiority complex. Actively seeking any chance to point out how they played the “worlds” sport, that real “football” players didn’t wear pads, how there was so much more skill involved in soccer. It was tiresome at best, and served to only reinforce the negative soccer stereotypes.

I still enjoyed going to the games to support my friends on the team, or to ogle the girls team (all the best looking girls at our school played). And having played youth soccer up until 7th grade, always had a favorable opinion of the game.

So all that said, I would actually like to think that the goal in extra time would actually increase America’s awareness and appreciation for the sport. That maybe it could move up the American sport’s pantheon to the level of basketball. But sadly, beating Algeria inextra time won’t change that.
See here are the problems with this line of thinking as I see them:

The generally accepted fact that American’s love an underdog is false under most circumstances. America loves winners and seeing those on high being knocked from their perch.

Look at the most popular teams in American sports; they all have longstanding winning traditions. The Yankees, Steelers and Cowboys all are at the top of their respective sports in terms of number of championships and have won constantly over the years and have the largest fan bases to show for it. When people root for the teams playing them, it is as much from a desire to see them lose, as to see them win.

America doesn’t want to be the underdog; they want to be the juggernaut. That is why when the world caught up to us in basketball we put together the dream team. It was no fun rooting for our college players as the underdog; it was fun to watch our best destroy all comers.

Plus, it is hard for America to accept the concept that we could be the underdog against a country we see as inferior to us. The lake placid hockey team could be seen as underdogs against the USSR. They were the boogieman from that huge red country across the ocean with their missiles pointed at us. In the minds of Americans, a third world nation the size of the state of Pennsylvania should not be favored over us in soccer, even if the Soccer loving world knows otherwise.

The Internet is doing as much harm as good.

Donovan’s goal became an internet sensation. YouTube tributes spread like wildfire. Bloggers spent days celebrating the goal with flowery prose. Surely more people were exposed to the goal through the internet than would have been in the days of the newpaper.

But soccer also suffered due to the internet and instant scores. When the US upset the USSR in hockey there weren’t tweets and live blogs covering the event so that everyone knew in real time. Sports fans were forced to tune in at night to watch the game on tape delay to learn the result, spoilers were hard to come by. Everyone tuned into that Hockey game got the full range of emotions that occur in a game of that magnitude. The growing hope that the underdog could come through and the exultation when they did was shared by all.

Unless you were one of those who took the day off (more on them later) to watch the game, chances are you knew the result without seeing the game. There was no tension, no overwhelming disappointment as it seemed that the game was slipping away only to be replace with joy as those American persevered to win in the end. The emotion that is so critical to sport was lost.

The hype leading up to the World Cup in America was false.

For the months leading up to the World Cup ESPN had their powerful hype machine on full blast. U2 was brought in to do a theme song. Soccer story after soccer story was pushed. The problem is, Sportcenter is no longer truly a sports highlight show. It is ESPN/ABC’s marketing arm.

One need only look at the way the coverage of the NBA vs. NHL has changed since ESPN dropped the NHL to pick up the NBA. No more NHL tonight, it is a slow day when all of the NHL games get highlight packages. The NBA gets primetime shows and prime coverage year round. The disparity in coverage far outweighs the disparity in popularity.

When ESPN/ABC showed the shots of the fans packed into bars showing the game they tried to sell it as American’s embracing the World Cup, but they were just preaching to the converted. It was the Americans who already loved soccer finding a way to watch the game, not those of us who just liked the game, or were ambivalent.

Nearly all of those who got to experience the emotion of the game already had a deep seeded appreciation of the game. I won’t say that the emotion was wasted on them, but the chance to share it with the rest of America was lost as ESPN relegated the replay in primetime to ESPNU, which many don’t get, or at midnight on the more widely seen ESPN2. Even ESPN didn’t see the value of using prime airtime on this supposedly sport changing game.

These thought were all running through my mind in the days following the game as I looked at the hyperbole being put forth about America embracing soccer through my cynical eyes. Then it was driven home the following Saturday when the US team played Ghana.

Watching the game, I got caught up in it. I held out hope that the US could pull off the upset. Watched them fall behind early only to fight their way back and to ultimately fail. Losing was not unexpected, but there was some emotion there.
hat night I went to a baseball game with about 30 of my coworkers. The same crew that had announced the scores of the previous games to everyone else as they came across their computer screens the previous weeks. The same crew that discusses whatever big game was on the night before. The majority of whom are 25-40 year old sports loving American males. The demographic that, according to all reports, had just fallen in love with soccer.

Not a word about the game was uttered the whole night as we ate our burgers and hotdogs and drank our beers. Lebron’s free agency was discussed, baseball talk flowed and talk of the upcoming football season was heard. All that sports talk and Soccer was already an afterthought. So quickly things had gone right back to normal. Nothing had changed.

Return of The King

What does it take to get brickinthebox posting again?
Is it a renewed sense of optimism surrounding the Raiders?
Is it the arrest of JaMarcus Russell for something that everyone knew was going on
for years? (What is the next shocking headline, Woody Harrelson arrested for pot?)
Is it just to see how many pointless questions I can lead a post with?
No, it is something much more sinister. A beloved American institution is under attack.
The story is all over the news, you can’t turn on the TV or surf the net without being
assaulted by the speculation, the analysis and the hyperbolae.
No we aren’t talking about the oil spill, or whatever Obama is doing. We are talking
about Lebron James’ vicious assault of Brett Favre.
That’s right loyal reader, your summer tradition of breathlessly awaiting word on Brett
decision on retirement has been ruthlessly abducted from the headlines. And perhaps
more disturbing, is the assault on Brett’s cherished title of being the pre-eminent attention
whore in sports.
The outright high jacking of the sporting landscape has obviously been well planned, and
rehearsed for optimal effect. And if you carefully examine the actions of the key players,
you will find the mastermind.
Player #1 – Brett Favre
It would not be surprising to find that Favre was ready to pass the torch to the next
in line, if he were truly contemplating retirement. But his actions show that he was
preparing for another Summer of dominating the headlines and sports talk radio.
Tearfully discuss how this could be the end after costing his team another playoff game –
Carefully timed surgery to keep name in headlines – check.
Meaningless wager with hometown team – check.
Vague quotes served up to long time media accomplices to further agenda – check.
The evidence is clear. Brett actions are those of one who relishes his standing, and wishes
to wear the crown as long as possible.
Verdict – Victim
Player #2 – LeBron James
The heir to Jordan’s throne, I won’t list his on court accomplishments, because I couldn’t
give a fuck about basketball and don’t know them. But with his name and face plastered
all over the media, he appears to have been working hard to replace Favre the past few
Show up wearing out of town gear to rile fans – check.
Avoid answering questions about preferred destination, while accepting any and all
invitations to be interviewed on that very subject – check.
Agree to a one hour special on the occasion of your decision – check.
It would seem to those eager to pass judgment that James and his marketing team are
the masterminds behind this coup attempt. There is only one problem. This is coming
too early in his career. And a true mastermind would recognize this, and the imminent
backlash. No, James’ ignorance of the potential consequences demonstrates that he and
his team are no potential masterminds.
Verdict – Willing Accomplice
This leaves just one potential mastermind. Those of you who are long time readers
will know his name. And if you tune in tonight, I am sure you will see his face.
Player #3 – Stuart Scott
That right, the man who holds an unexplainable hold over the Disney/ESPN empire.
Hiding behind his buffoonish façade, his lazy eye, his penchant for outdated pop culture
references, Stuart Scott has positioned himself to retake his spot as the premier ESPN
When you follow the breadcrumbs, it isn’t hard to pick up the trail.
Scott had it all. Free reign to impart his will over the worldwide leaders sports
programming. From forcing his way onto the Sunday/Monday night pregame show
to outright flaunting of his powers, such as his poetry jams. Scott could do whatever,
whenever he wanted.
But media power can be fleeting, and any sign of weakness can cost one his perch.
A mysterious Illness, coupled with others getting closer to reigning king of attention
whoring, Favre, than he could (Favre of course is a Southern white boy, read into this as
you will). And Scott new something had to be done.
First, media competition had to be eliminated. Some quick backdoor maneuvering was
all it took to discredit the likes of Steven A. Smith (let us not forget that White Males
from New England share many traits of their southern counterparts, and prefer a “safe”
alternate perspective).
Then a suitable heir to Favre’s throne had to be found. James was the obvious choice.
Willing to be thrust into the spotlight from a young age, desperate for the attention,
immature enough to embrace Scott and talented enough to garner the attention, he was
easy pickings for one as experience in manipulation as Scott.
Finally the hype machine had to be wound up. While Scott had seen his star fade due to
the ascension of those more physically gifted (Erin Andrews) or willing to flaunt their
limited physical gifts (Hanna Storm), or actually adept at their craft (Bob Ley), he still
had his claws deep enough into the worldwide leader to manipulate the weak minded.
And the weak were easily manipulated. Scott’s favorite tool was Bill Simmons. Feeding
on Simmon’s love for outdated pop culture, Simmons was a willing pawn in Scott’s
game. Possessing an internet following that is hard to explain, Simmons reached the
masses with Scotts message of “All that is James must be covered”.
With all the pieces in place, Scott could sit back and watch his master plan fall into
place. The ESPN machine will automatically gravitate towards properties it holds the
rights to (See world cup hype) so Scott, now in place as the man closest to James in the
organization had only to ride the wave.
Tonight a new King of the Attention Whores may be crowned, but while his predecessor
was a master media manipulator, this new King is merely a figurehead. Make no mistake
dear readers, tonight is the start of something far more sinister, The second reign of Stuart
Scott is at hand. The sporting world may never be the same.