When Chicago White Sox star shortstop Alexei Ramirez defected from Cuba in 2007, he knew he would be unable to visit his parents due to US travel restrictions and the probability that he would be unable to leave once he stepped foot on Cuban soil again.
But just in time for the 4th of July, Ramirez celebrated Independence Day by welcoming his mother and father to Chicago who left Cuba 10 days ago for the states:
Alexei Ramirez returned from the White Sox seven-game road trip Sunday night and sat in the driveway leading up to his house for close to 30 minutes.
The White Sox shortstop had to be tired after playing in New York’s sweltering weekend heat, but this particular pause had nothing to do with exhaustion. Ramirez was about to be reunited with his parents, Armando and Edith, who came from Cuba to Chicago while Ramirez was out of town, and he simply was trying to compose himself.
“I was so nervous, and there were so many emotions running through me,” Ramirez told MLB.com Wednesday, through translator and White Sox manager of cultural development Jackson Miranda. “It took me a while to calm myself until I saw them.
“When I saw them, there was just a lot of crying and a lot of hugging. It was a lot of love. It was great.”
Upon being asked how his parents made their way from Cuba, Ramirez chose not to go into specific details.
“I’m excited to have them here,” said Ramirez, whose parents will live in Chicago with his family during the season and then in Florida with them during the offseason. “I just thank God. It’s a great dream to have come true.”
That dream moved to another level on Tuesday, when Ramirez’s parents saw him play live for the first time with the White Sox. On Wednesday, Armando threw a ceremonial first pitch to his son before the start of the contest against the Rangers.
Ramirez said that his parents already have taken to Chicago. After not seeing them since 2007, when he came to the United States to start his Major League career in the ’08 season, Ramirez can’t wait to make up for their lost time together starting with this special Independence Day.
“You can’t make back five years, not being there,” Ramirez said. “But I treasure that every day from now on I’ll be able to be with them.”
Circumstances surrounding the elder Ramirez’s arrival in the US are unclear, but it is not unusual for the State Department to work through channels to reunite families of Cuban nationals in the United States.
A star for the Cuban national team prior to his defection, Ramirez put on a show for his mom and dad who attended the White Sox game against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday night. It was the first time they had seen their son play since his defection 5 years ago. In a 19-2 blow-out win for the Sox, Ramirez had 3 hits in 5 at bats and batted in 2 runs. Since his parents arrived in the US, Ramirez is hitting .387.
Then, on Wednesday, Alexei got another thrill; his father Armando threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the game with the Rangers with his son behind the plate. After catching the throw, Alexie trotted out to the mound and embraced his father.
Ramirez’s defection was not as dramatic as some Cubans who have risked much to play in the states. Escaping the watchful eyes of the Cuban secret police who accompany the national team when they play in international tournaments is not easy. But as more and more players find ways off Castro’s island prison, the Cuban government may be softening its position on their players signing with Major League teams and might eventually give in to the inevitable.
For now, though, Ramirez is one of the lucky ones. And reuniting with his parents probably makes his dream complete.
(CBS) Olympic champion Michael Johnson believes descendants of West African slaves have a “superior athletic gene” that gives black American and Caribbean sprinters an advantage.
“Over the last few years, athletes of Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American descent have dominated athletics finals,” Johnson told The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom. “It’s a fact that hasn’t been discussed openly before. It’s a taboo subject in the States but it is what it is. Why shouldn’t we discuss it?”
Another summer off-season has brought on another crisis for the Premiere League’s Arsenal FC. In 2009 the red and white lost power talents Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor to rivals Manchester City in summer transfers. In 2011, they lost world class midfielder Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona and playmaker Samir Nasri, along with defender Gael Clichy, to Manchester City. The club has mostly replaced such lost talents with cheaper, younger players, many of whom have not stepped up to fill the lost Gunners’ boots. This year, as the Gunners ruthlessly climbed the table after an awful start to the 2011 campaign, striker and captain Robin Van Persie emerged as the massive talent that the club’s fans suspected he was, but which a string of injuries had prevented from full revelation. He scored when he wanted in the 2011 season, it seemed, banging in 37 goals in all competitions and netting the Premiere League’s Golden Boot and both Player of the Year awards. At times Van Persie carried the Gunners on his back.
But throughout Van Persie’s incredible campaign, there was a nagging doubt that he would not return for another season. He was in the penultimate year of his contract, and had put off any extension talks until the end of the season. Arsenal finished third in the table, and RVP joined his countrymen at the Euro 2012 championships, no new contract inked. On Wednesday, he declared that he would not sign an extension.
His announcement has sparked condemnation and a raging debate: Should Arsenal sell him and buy other players to replace him, or should they hold him to that final year?
Van Persie is no youngster by soccer standards; he turns 29 in August. He has been injury-plagued throughout his time at Arsenal, and was once accused of rape. That charge was false, and the club stood patiently by him during that ordeal and the many months he has spent off the pitch and on the doctor’s table. One great and complete season later, though, he questions the club’s ambition and says that he will not extend his contract. Here is how he framed his decision to leave in his statement to the club’s fans:
I personally have had a great season but my goal has been to win trophies with the team and to bring the club back to its glory days.
Out of my huge respect for Mr Wenger, the players and the fans I don’t want to go into any details, but unfortunately in this meeting it has again become clear to me that we in many aspects disagree on the way Arsenal should move forward.
I’ve thought long and hard about it, but I have decided not to extend my contract. You guys, the fans, have of course the right to disagree with my view and decision and I will always respect your opinions.
I love the club and the fans, no matter what happens. I have grown up and became a man during my time with Arsenal. Everybody at the club and the fans have always supported me over the years and I have always given my all (and more) on and off the pitch.
The timing is interesting: Arsenal have already bought two world-class strikers in Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud before the summer transfer window has even officially opened, and are said to be chasing the signatures of a new goalkeeper and one or more established midfielders including American Clint Dempsey, who is coming off his best season at Premiere League stalwart Fulham. They are also in the hunt for Belgian defender Jan Vertonghen. Podolski carried his German club last season, and Giroud led the French league in scoring on the way to his club winning the title. None of Arsenal’s moves to sign them and other players show any lack of ambition. Despite his protestation that he has “huge respect” for club manager Arsene Wenger, Van Persie’s statement says otherwise: The player is questioning the manager’s and the board’s vision for the club. His public statement caught the club off guard. It was designed to damage the club going into its transfer window, and may reduce the price it could have gotten for him had he stayed quiet. That’s disrespect, and the club and its fans expected and deserved better from him.
Banning college football is un-American.
Being European, I can’t help but wonder over recent debates in the United States about the NFL and college football. Increasingly more analysts believe that these sports should be banned, or at least ‘reformed’. The latter of course meaning that they’ll lose what makes them unique and appealing to sports fans everywhere.
Now, make no mistake about it: I’m just as convinced as the average Joe that football is a very dangerous sport indeed. But why did this fact take analysts by surprise? Why do they make such a big issue out of concussions and other football-related problems? Is it a matter of them wanting to wash their hands in all innocence?
I still remember the first time I watched the NFL: I was shocked – shocked. These weren’t athletes, they were gladiators. Anyone not blind could see that they were out to hurt each other and that the crowd loved them for it.
Once I got into the NFL, I started watching college football too. It was just as great, if not better, simply because it’s less commercial. These youngsters were trying to prove themselves; they wanted to be the best they could possibly be, while hoping for a professional career in the NFL. They were willing to run through brick walls to reach their goals.
Of course, they too were taken off the field regularly. One had a concussion, another a broken leg. Some of the injured players were probably scarred for life. That much was clear.
The season is finally over for the Los Angeles Lakers, and it didn’t end well. The team lost in 5 games to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round of the playoffs. It didn’t have to be this way. In two of the games that they lost, the Lakers had a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter. Why did the Lakers blow those games? Because OKC is younger, quicker, more athletic and more talented; and because the Lakers are older, slower and only have one player they can rely on, Kobe Bryant.
Kobe was the only player who played well Monday night for the Lakers. In fact, he was fantastic, scoring 42 points. Pau Gasol was more aggressive than he was in the last couple games, but he did not have a good night, making 35% of his shots. In all likelihood he will be traded this summer. Gasol’s contribution to the Lakers during the last 5 years has been terrific, as he was instrumental in helping the Lakers win 2 championships. In fact, his effort for the Lakers was second to only Kobe Bryant, and for that Pau will forever hold a special place in Lakers fans’ hearts.
With a win tonight against the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers will advance to the Western Conference semi-finals to face the Oklahoma City Thunder. This potential match up will be fascinating and entertaining for several reasons.
First, it will be the first time the two teams play each other since this vicious play:
Metta World Peace — formerly known as Ron Artest — was suspended 7 games for that elbow, which left OKC guard James Harden with a concussion. It will be very interesting to see how the OKC fans treat World Peace. My guess is not very well.
The buzz in Madison Square Garden during the current New York Knicks basketball season has not been experienced in years. To the amazement of basketball aficionados, a Knicks ticket is a hot consumer item as Carmelo Anthony and Jeremy Lin (before his knee surgery) have converted a lackluster team into a possible playoff team, albeit not one that is likely translatable into an NBA championship. Nonetheless, the early success means that seats on the basketball floor, in what is sometimes referred to as celebrity row, are filled.
One of those seats is occupied at almost every home game by Spike Lee, the filmmaker and avid fan of the Knicks. He is one of the regulars along with Woody Allen, Matthew Modine, and a host of other film personalities. However, Mr. Lee stands apart; he has insinuated himself into the game by cheerleading, confirming referees’ decisions, and engaging in trash talk with opposing players.
Clearly one might ask why Mr. Lee has this privileged position. Should anyone else behave in a similar manner, he would be escorted from the Garden. Is it because he is a highly regarded black filmmaker? Or is it his friendship with the players? Perhaps his yearly purchase of celebrity seats offers license other fans do not receive?
So, one NFL team got caught paying its players to inflict injury on key players on the opposing side. Be still my palpitating heart. You mean to tell me that pro football is a nasty, violent sport played for keeps and with no holds barred and where teams will do anything — up to and including trying to injure an opposing player — to win? Perish the thought.
The hypocrisy of the league, the teams, the fans, and especially the sanctimonious twits who style themselves “sportswriters” is incredible. The teams pay players to knock the snot out of the other fellow — the harder the hitter, the more dollars in his contract. The fans pay big bucks to watch them do it and cheer wildly at the mayhem. The league markets the game with not so subtle hints at the ferocity of its players. And sportswriters run out of adjectives describing hits on opposing players that, if delivered outside the lines of the field, would constitute probable cause for assault and battery.
The New Orleans Saints — specifically, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and 22 players — pooled their money to pay bounties for knocking opposing players out of the game. Williams, hired as defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams this past offseason, has been suspended by the league “indefinitely.” Head coach Sean Payton, who apparently tried to cover up the activity, got a one-year suspension. The team was also fined and lost a couple of draft picks.
The league took this action not so much because they are concerned about “sportsmanship” or “fair play” but because paying bounties is against the rules. There is a perfectly legal and far more elegant way for teams to accomplish the exact same thing the Saints managed to do: Pay massive contracts to players with a reputation for pulverizing opponents. Some of the highest paid players in the game are also some of its hardest hitters. Hitting an opponent like a ton of bricks is likely to cause some kind of injury whether it slows the player down or puts him on the sideline for a couple of games. Bone, sinew, muscle, tendons, cartilage — the human body, no matter how well conditioned, did not evolve over the last 2 million years to be crunched by a 260 pound linebacker who runs a 4.4 40 yard dash. The collisions rattle bones, and even brains, as concussions are at an all time high in the NFL.
And there is a far more effective way to police this kind of thing: let the players and opposing teams deal with it in their own way.
Warren Sapp, former all-pro defensive lineman:
“We don’t keep many secrets in the NFL, if you knocking a dude out, you getting paid — that’s going to get around,” Sapp said on CBS This Morning. “Once that gets out, the league’s going to come down on you even more then. Teams are going to start coming after your guys.”
There you have it: mutually assured destruction. You take out our guy, we go after two of yours. It worked in baseball for 100 years until the league began to butt its nose into the nuances of the game. If a pitcher threw at the head of an opposing player, he had best be ready to duck when it was his turn to bat. Or sometimes the payback would come in the form of a bean ball thrown at the other team’s best player. A balance of power was maintained in this imperfect manner, and it protected players and pitchers as well.
Four differently themed “regions” of sixteen competitors each have been chosen and seeded for a tournament that will crown an MVP (Most Vile Progressive). Yours truly was part of the seeding committee and I will be on FTR tonight at 10 PM EDT for the big Selection Show. The tournament will open up to the public after that. Votes will be cast on the station’s site and should be almost as much fun as watching Duke lose early.
I did not agree with some of the final seeding choices so I may very well have to spend some time searching for votes in a Minnesota car trunk somewhere.
36 year old Peyton Manning chooses the Denver Broncos as his next team, which means that likely Tim Tebow is on the trading bloc, Mike Silver of Yahoo sports reports:
Two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history just hooked up on a “Go” route for the ages, and there’s no question which one feels like walking around with his arms raised to the heavens in celebration.
No matter what Peyton Manning does as a Denver Bronco, John Elway just threw the executive’s equivalent of a game-winning touchdown pass.
Elway, since taking over as the Broncos’ top football executive 14 months ago, has been looking for a quarterback befitting of his Hall of Fame legacy, or at least someone doing a decent impersonation. Instead, thanks to an against-the-grain decision by the prior regime and a stunning series of dramatic developments during the surreal 2011 season, he got Tebowmania – and it wasn’t going away.
And thanks to Manning’s equally extraordinary divorce from the Indianapolis Colts, Elway saw an opening – a bold, emphatic way to rid himself of Tim Tebow without causing an insurrection in the Rockies.
True to his nature, the old gunslinger seized it, going all out in his pursuit of Manning, with whom he surely connected on a level none of us can understand.
On Monday, Elway learned that he’d found his target, with Manning choosing the Broncos over the Tennessee Titans and San Francisco 49ers. To say the reaction at the Broncos’ Dove Valley training facility was one of jubilation would be an understatement. Sure, the notion of landing one of the greatest players in league history was a pick-me-upper. However, there was also a decided ding-dong-the-witch-is-dead strain to the exultation, as unfair and irrational as that may seem.
“Peyton Manning allows John Elway and the Broncos to wash their hands clean of Tim Tebow,” the headline above Silver’s story blurts out with an obvious anti-Christian dig, even though Silver, a former Sports Illustrated writer, does a pretty good job of controlling his own biases in the article.
In a way, Elway’s career has come full circle — he was the successor to Craig Morton, the former Dallas Cowboys starter, who was released when Roger Staubach emerged as a superstar in the early 1970s. After stopping for a cup of coffee in New York, Morton found redemption with Broncos, taking them to their first Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 1977 season (where they lost to Morton’s former team). Now Elway as the Broncos’ general manager is placing his team’s current Super Bowl aspirations on the arm of another 30-something quarterback, who may or may not be damaged goods.
Will Elway get the job done and end his playing career, as Elway did, with another Super Bowl ring in Denver? And what will happen next with Tebow? Did Tebow’s religious proselytizing speed his demise with a team he took into the playoffs?
Toss the rhetorical pigskin around in the comments below.
(Thumbnail on Lifestyle blog homepage assembled from multiple Shutterstock.com images.)
ESPN is reporting today that #18, the face of the Colts for the past decade plus, will be a Colt no more. The team will make an official announcement Wednesday.
With Peyton Manning running their offense during the past 14 seasons, the Colts were perennial contenders and won a Super Bowl. Without Manning, who was injured all of last season, the Colts were just 2-14. Their dismal record earned them, if you want to call it that, the first pick in the upcoming NFL draft. They’re expected to pick Stanford’s Andrew Luck.
On the field and off, Peyton Manning has been a champion and an ambassador for the game and for his team.
The question ahead is a double: Will Peyton Manning play football again, and if he does, where? Reports over the past month have indicated that his arm strength is back after several procedures to repair injured nerves in his neck. His football brain is among the best the NFL has ever seen. If his arm is really back, several teams will be interested in him either as a back-up or even a starter. He would certainly make for a fantastic mentor to a younger QB. Manning is likely to look for a team that will contend, if only to try to match his brother’s two Super Bowl wins.
Where will the great Peyton Manning end up?
When did America start having emotional meltdowns over sports? A pair of recent events during the run-up to the Super Bowl highlight a disturbing trend among sports fans.
Most recently, as Peter King writes at Sports Illustrated, fans of the San Francisco 49ers aren’t handling Sunday’s defeat in the NFC Championship game very well:
Nice crowd the 49ers have on Twitter. One of their “fans” tweeted to Williams (@KyleWilliams_10): “Jim Harbaugh, please give @KyleWilliams_10 the game ball. And make sure it explodes when he gets in his car.”
It’s only sports, people. Only sports. Around here, the fog will come up tomorrow.
I know Jim Harbaugh has tried to transform his formerly finesse-oriented team into tough blue collar-style bruisers, but who knew he’d also turn San Francisco’s formerly wine and sushi-enjoying crowd into snarling Oakland Raiders-style fans?
Similarly, assuming it’s not play-acting to deliberately create a viral video (and it wouldn’t be the first time, if that turns out to be the case), this clip is a fascinating look at the mindset of a crazed sports fan, crestfallen that the Green Bay Packers lost in the playoffs:
Vince Lombardi built the Packers of the 1960s into a tough, Spartan football team, and the Packers fans of that era were similarly flinty and cool. (Pardon the frozen tundra-inspired pun.) Looking down from NFL Valhalla, what would Lombardi think of the above video?
I love the magical thinking implicit in blaming her sparkly nail polish (!) for the Packers’ loss. The solipsistic belief that she alone displeased the Football Gods so badly they caused the Pack to lose to the Giants on January 15th.
Then there’s the polypropylene cheesehead and Packers jersey she’s wearing. Hulu, the streaming video site, has a section devoted to the NFL, where you can watch NFL Film’s Lost Treasures series, which looks back at the founding of the league’s film division in the early to mid-1960s. Watching those episodes, you’ll quickly notice that prior to the 1970s, there was little in the way of NFL merchandise for adults to wear. If you watch newsreel footage of the 1957 NFL championship, when the Baltimore Colts beat the New York Giants at the legendary Polo Grounds, the majority of men in the stands wore sober business suits, top coats, and fedoras. This past Christmas, I watched an NFL Channel presentation on “The Longest Game Ever Played,” the double-overtime playoff battle between the Miami Dolphins and the Kansas City Chiefs, the last game played in Municipal Stadium, the predecessor to Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs’ current home. As late as Christmas Day, 1971 there were still several men wearing suits, ties, and fedoras to games.
There you are, watching The Game… or A Game. It’s cold, as it is when watching The Game, but your throat is dry and scratchy from yelling. A man heads your way selling beer. Do you: A) Hold the beer with your mittened hands, and hope you don’t drop it; or B) Take off your mittens and freeze your fingers? Well now you have a third choice.
The Skuuzi is a warm (looking) mitten with a built in beer-bottle (or cup) holder. We live in awesome times, don’t we. It doesn’t get much better than this. Oh hang on… I don’t go to football games (you can see better on TV), I don’t live in Green Bay, and I don’t drink beer. Oh well, it’s still an terrific invention.
The Skuuzi company’s website touts this as a Scandinavian koozi (beer can keeper-cooler thingie). But Skuuzi apparently, or at least on their US Trademark office application is run out of a townhouse in Greenwich Village. It worked for Haagen Dazs.
We all know, because we’re Internet savvy, all about twitter, right? And of course football players have used twitter to poke at opponents and get themselves in a lot of trouble for a while now. But I was still surprised to see this on the landing page of the 49ers NFL.com page:
Twitter, it seems, has become the institutionalized way of rallying fans, at least for the recently “blue collar” San Francisco 49ers.
And for those of you thinking, huh? What is she talking about? The # before “Saints” “49ers” and “beatthesaints” are called “hash tags” and are used to organize tweets (twitter posts). You can search on a hash tag, and if you want a lot of people talking about your subject you tell them to use a specific hash tag. So if you want to hear 49ers fans trash-taking about the Saints you’d search for #beatthesaints. If you want your tweet found, you insert that hash tag into your tweet.
Oh, and yes, please, beat the Saints. It’s been a long dry season for the 49er faithful.
Dandy Don and Howard Cosell have each retired to the big broadcasting booth in the sky, and Hank Williams, Jr. has been fired from his Monday Night Football gig. So for some NFL pizazz, there’s only one place left to turn.
Yes, we’re left with Taiwan’s crack team of digital animators, who bring us a preview of Sunday night’s Cowboys/Giants game as only they can:
What’s your take on the final week of the NFL? Who will go deepest in the playoffs? Feel free to reply via digital 3d animation, or simply in the comments below.
(Via the PJ Tatler.)
To be honest, I’m not sure if Cincinnati Bengals founder Paul Brown or John Facenda, NFL Films’ original Voice of God, would approve of the circus-like acrobatics. But Jerome Simpson of the Bengals obtains NFL immortality, as this clip will be shown endlessly over the coming years on ESPN and the NFL Channel, let alone YouTube:
So how has your team done this year? Are you ready for — dare I say the word — the playoffs?
To the uninitiated, boxing looks easy—just a couple of palookas hitting each other for a paycheck. Hey, most of them can barely speak English, right? Check out the diction and syntax on Larry Holmes or James Toney. It is easy to dismiss what is traditionally known as “the sweet science” as, at best, a barbaric experiment.
That’s what I thought until 2004, when I started taking boxing lessons from a 60-year-old man at a local gym. A couple months in, he suggested that we spar for the first time. Why not? This is the first test of a young fighter’s prowess and, by extension, a young man’s pride. During practice, my combinations were sharp; my defense was quick (“impregnable,” as Mike Tyson would say). More important, I was 19; he was 60 and had an artificial hip. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I thought I could at least walk away with some sense of masculinity left intact.
I barely lasted two rounds. I’ll resort to cliche and say it was like fighting a ghost. My punches missed by a foot. I had no timing. I got hit with even the slowest jab. Before I knew it was a jab, I was hit with another one. I moved my head too late. My feet and legs felt heavy, as if wrapped in wet towels. I was out of breath after one minute. I couldn’t land anything. The old man was too quick for a teenager. Eventually, after another year of training, I was able to go eight or nine rounds with a younger sparring partner, but those first few experiences were like nothing I had ever felt before. No workout can compare to boxing—real boxing, not that aerobic postiche that middle-aged women do. You can’t breathe; you can’t see; your shoulders hurt so much you can barely hold your arms up; you’re getting popped in the nose, the solar plexus, the liver; and, worst of all, you have to fight back.
Try doing that for fifteen rounds, which was how long championship bouts used to be (it was changed to twelve during the 1980s). There’s a certain nostalgia among boxing historians for the fifteen-rounder. It is supposed to represent a titanic age, when no fighter lifted weights and when the rings were free of advertisements. Smokin’ Joe Frazier was a member of that generation, and part of the sadness over his death is not only that we lost one of America’s best gentlemen, but that we lost one of the last living symbols of boxing’s glorious past.
I once fought a grandfather and lost. I can only dream, or have nightmares, about what it felt like to fight Joe Frazier in his prime. He could, with his left hook, put most men in either the hospital or the morgue. Again, to the uninitiated, Frazier’s style looks sloppy and reckless: he seems to charge into his opponents with no concern for strategy. When he bobs and weaves, he leans forward a bit too much and looks down at the canvas. That’s what most people see. What they miss are the subtle shifts in weight and the slick and relentless head movements that prevented his opponents from hitting him as he moved inside. Every good infighter, from Tyson to Toney, has learned from watching Joe Frazier close the gap on an opponent.
Unfortunately, there’s a substantial but often overlooked political angle to the whole story. Regarding Frazier’s feud with Muhammad Ali, Daniel Foster of National Review Online has aptly observed:
The Frazier–Ali split is supposed to be a conservative–liberal thing, and according to some, preferring the former to the latter is supposed to be vaguely racist, to boot.
This is because Frazier was calm, modest, respectful, and disdainful of empty rhetoric. Ali, to the guardians of respectable opinion, was the “real” black man, the radical who ditched his “slave name” Cassius Clay and who refused to fight in Vietnam. But with time, it became clear that Ali’s persona was designed to evade as well as to provoke. Though a brilliant fighter, he always relied more on speed than on perfect boxing technique. As he got older and slower, his showmanship became more crass, as if he was desperate to cover up his eroding skill with profanity. Ali’s lowest point was when he, borrowing racialist tactics from the Nation of Islam, referred to Frazier as a “gorilla.” The subtext to Ali’s taunting was that Frazier was nothing more than an Uncle Tom, the white man’s black hope.
As usual, the subject of race keeps us from seeing what is most salient. Smokin’ Joe was never anybody’s tool. He devoted the rest of his life to teaching kids his own version of the sweet science in order to keep them off the streets. Most older boxing fans lament the degeneration of the sport into the Don King world of glitzy corruption, with loud-mouthed punks in shiny trunks. They are Ali’s legacy, to be sure. And though Frazier was forever haunted by Ali’s larger shadow, its Frazier’s persona—that of the quiet warrior, a la Joe Louis—that true fans are nostalgic for. His legacy is therefore much greater.
It’s a pointless speculation, but it might be interesting to wonder just where Joe Frazier would be today without those little run-ins with Muhammad Ali. Well, he’d probably be alive, for one thing. That’s a good theory for starters. Word came Monday that Frazier died of liver cancer at 67. Maybe that would have overtaken him in any event. But anybody who saw any of those three fights, particularly the two horrifying bookends of their heroic trilogy, would not be insulting medical opinion if he guessed Ali somehow had a hand in Frazier’s ultimate mortality.
Those two fights, especially their first meeting in the Garden 40 years ago, and even more especially 1975′s Thrilla in Manila, the fight that essentially ended their careers, were such violent affairs, such protracted examples of desperation, that any seasons lived beyond them have to be considered a kind of boxing gravy. They were not heavyweight title fights so much as near-death experiences, a brutally choreographed and lightly regulated self-destruction, their pride and ambition so inflamed that survival was no longer part of either fighter’s plan.
In a way though, by the time time Frazier and Ali hung up their gloves for good, it was professional boxing itself that would find itself on the ropes. This past summer, Paul Beston dubbed it “The Ghost Sport” in City Journal magazine:
With Tyson’s fall, boxing completed its transformation from central preoccupation to sideshow. For years, the sport had failed to meet the competitive challenge posed by other sports in the television age. Even as the tube brought fights into millions of homes, it hurt attendance at live events. Looking elsewhere for revenue, promoters began to stage most big fights at gambling casinos, a lucrative prospect for those in the money but one that separated the sport from a reliable fan base in major cities.
Yet the fact that TV proved a huge boon for most other sports suggests that we must look elsewhere for the true causes of boxing’s decline—above all, to changing tastes. In the long postwar boom, prosperity and higher living standards created different expectations for leisure and entertainment, as well as more refined attitudes. Boxing’s endemic corruption and scandal wore away its popular appeal and made the sport seem increasingly atavistic. Crooked managers and promoters; rankings of fighters doctored by fraudulent boxing organizations; allegations of fixed fights and bribed referees and judges; foul play in the ring, from illegal substances to doctored gloves; and fighters killed or maimed who shouldn’t have been fighting in the first place—these were among the reasons that the American public stopped taking the sport seriously.
Worst of all, though, were the sport’s effects on the human body. Boxing’s fatality rate is lower than that of horse racing and of some other sports, but its real scourge is not death but debility—particularly, brain damage. Today, the specter of brain trauma hovers over professional, college, and even high school football, posing a potential threat to that sport’s future. But awareness of boxing’s dangers long predates modern research. The image of the punch-drunk, shuffling old fighter goes back to the sport’s early days; researchers conducted studies of trauma in ex-fighters as early as the 1920s.
When the subject of boxing and brain trauma comes up today, the first image in everyone’s mind is that of Muhammad Ali, now 69. Afflicted with Parkinson’s disease, he moves hesitantly, is generally unintelligible, and shakes convulsively across his upper body; his moon-shaped face exhibits the masklike blankness so common to Parkinson’s—and Alzheimer’s—sufferers. Ali’s great ring model, Sugar Ray Robinson, who died in 1989, was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease in his final years. Like Ali, Robinson fought long beyond the point at which he could protect himself. Boxing’s two most gifted and stylish performers, in their prime the antithesis of the brute fighter, ended up indistinguishable from the broken-down old pugs they were sure they’d never become.
In 1984, the American Medical Association, after years of study, called for a ban on boxing, citing the sport’s object of causing physical harm and the damage its participants clearly suffered to their mental faculties. Since then, other studies have continued to link boxing to severe brain trauma. But the AMA hasn’t been able to build enough momentum to ban boxing—ironically, because not enough people in the U.S. care one way or the other. Revulsion has passed into indifference.
Even as its popularity has ebbed, boxing flickers in the American consciousness. One surprising area in which the sport has made small inroads into American habits is the growth of “white-collar boxing,” in which men and women show up after their day jobs to spar or fight real bouts in a gym. Many health clubs now offer boxing-related fitness programs, as few activities can compete with boxing’s aerobic benefits. Boxing continues to fascinate great writers, as it always has—only baseball has a comparable literary pedigree. And the ring’s elemental sense of conflict has proved endlessly adaptable for filmmakers. The prominence of some recent boxing films, like Million Dollar Baby, Cinderella Man, and The Fighter, is impressive, considering that the many fine boxing films of the past—from Body and Soul, Champion, and The Set-Up to The Harder They Fall, Fat City, and Raging Bull—could count on broader public enthusiasm for the sport.
While boxing will probably never regain its last glorious run in the 1970s, thanks to Frazier, Ali, and a certain rather loquacious television figure, we can always look back at some of the most iconic images — and words of its heyday:
The nanny state surrounds us. At every level of government politicians legislate and bureaucrats regulate in the name of our own good. The news media dole out tips and suggestions as if viewers and readers had no common sense. These days, we even have unelected officials trying to tell us what to eat. So, you’d hope that the one place we could escape the nanny state would be the sports world, right?
This nanny statism in sports isn’t new. In his Pictorial History of the University of Georgia, F. N. Boney, a former professor of mine, recounts how a tragic accident nearly led to the abolition of football in Georgia, thanks so some well-meaning legislators:
When a game against Virginia in Atlanta in 1897 ended in the death of a Georgia player, Von Gammon, a drive to abolish the sport developed. All over the nation football was causing many serious injuries and some deaths. A bill abolishing football sailed through the state legislature, but [professor and pioneering football coach Charles] Herty continued to champion the game, insisting that better facilities and equipment would eliminate excessive dangers, and Von Gammon’s mother defended Herty and football, the game her son “held so dear.” Governor William Y. Atkinson had graduated in law from the university in 1877 and had been a trustee in 1891. A sports enthusiast, he had witnessed the fatal game in Atlanta. After much thought, he refused to sign the bill, and football survived in Georgia.
Of course, there is much to be said about ensuring safety and technology has gone a long way toward making any game less dangerous. Unfortunately, it seems that throughout professional sports, especially in the NFL, the league offices are stepping in to make changes, but players and fans alike think that rule changes go too far.
Gregg Easterbrook is the single best reason to be excited by the return of the NFL. Because of it, and during its season, he blogs at ESPN.com in a column every Tuesday, appropriately called Tuesday Morning Quarterback, or TMQ to its legions of admiring readers, of whom I am one. I don’t read it for its analyses of football games. I am opposed to football as a “sport.”
I loyally read TMQ, however, for its cultural observations of the world beyond the gridiron and for its wit. This week’s column demonstrated, once again, the vast expanse of daylight between the moribund New York Times and actual reality as perceived by the tens of millions of Americans who are not employed by the quondam serious publication:
Wacky Food of the Week: The New York Times declared a “flowering in the doughnut arts.” Hibiscus, salted caramel and passion fruit donuts are now baked in the Big Apple, as are mashed-potato donuts with chocolate-hazelnut icing. Yum! One donut baker, the newspaper opined, is “a mystic technologist” because he “makes jam from local fruit.” If making your own jam strikes the New York Times as mystical, perhaps the paper’s staff should get out more. One baker has “the power to amaze” with a donut that is “an homage to the carrot cake.”
The National Football League is — as long as it flows from left to right, as Ed Morrissey notes at Hot Air. Hank Williams was dropped — we don’t know yet if it’s just for yesterday’s edition of Monday Night Football or permanently — by ESPN for comparing the president to Hitler. But for this year’s Super Bowl halftime entertainer, such comparisons are just another day at the office. Or at least they were until January of 2009:
I don’t think Williams was misunderstood at all; he was pretty blunt about it, and claiming that people didn’t catch some alleged nuance is just laughable. But should that mean that anyone who makes Hitler comparisons to contemporary political leaders should be barred from NFL performances? If so, then the NFL might need to reconsider its latest entertainment decision:
Will Madonna take the field at halftime during the Super Bowl come February?
Madge is reportedly in talks to headline the 2012 halftime show at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, which would mark her debut on the massively watched pro football telecast — that according to a sports blog citing a source “close to the event.” …
Recent halftime performers have included the Black Eyed Peas, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. Madonna would in theory have a blank canvas to showcase her catalog of work, from the “Like a Virgin” days to her most recent, electric-hop record, “Hard Candy.”
Yeah, that’s just what the Super Bowl needs — another middle-aged pop star well past her prime giving us a “Sweating to the Oldies” set. But Jammie Wearing Fool recalls when Madonna was positively LaRouchian herself, in 2008:
Madonna kicked off her Sticky & Sweet Tour in the U.K. Saturday, and stirred up a beehive of controversy by comparing Republican presidential nominee John McCain to Adolf Hitler in a video montage during the show.
During the song “Get Stupid,” Madonna flashed images of McCain alongside photos of Hitler and brutal Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, as well as images of destruction and global warming, according to British paper The Times.
By contrast, in the next segment of the performance, she used the image of Democratic nominee Barack Obama alongside pictures of John Lennon, Mahatma Ghandi and Al Gore.
Frankly, I’d watch football if both of these two performed, or if neither of them did. I really couldn’t care less if Williams performs before every Monday Night Football game or if Madonna breaks out the bustier for a halftime gig at the Super Bowl. I’ll be getting the veggie tray and drinks during halftime anyway. What I do care about is a double standard when it comes to political expression by entertainers that penalizes conservatives while giving progressives a pass.
As I said to my wife last night, we need to pay particular attention to the food we serve at halftime during our Super Bowl party, since everyone will be in kitchen while Madge is on.
For a look back at an era where the NFL (mostly) kept politics out of the game we watched on TV, click here.
Moneyball is a highly polished piece of entertainment that knows how to please an audience. Does it matter if this movie is essentially wrong?
Based on the celebrated bestseller by Michael Lewis, the film is a diluted version of The Social Network – a tale of a misfit who hit it big by bucking the system. But picture a Social Network that was made by people who actually liked their subject — liked him so much they hired Brad Pitt to play him.
Pitt is Billy Beane, the (now-legendary) general manager of the Oakland Athletics baseball team during the glory years when they won so many World Series titles — in the early 2000s.
Except the A’s haven’t won any World Series lately. Or even made it to the World Series. That is a problem for this film, which instead uses as its climactic moment an (ultimately trivial) 20-game winning streak the team enjoyed in 2002. That glorious season came after Beane, whose small-market team had a budget roughly one-fourth the size of that of the best-funded one, the New York Yankees, lost three of his best players to free agency and then, seemingly in a fit of pique, traded away a couple of key starting players in midseason.
Beane is a perfect character for this moment — he’s portrayed as being ruthlessly empirical, technocratic, concerned with results instead of the appearances that obsess his staff of old-time baseball scouts and their avatar, the team’s recalcitrant, traditionalist manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Pitt’s Beane is also one of the few bosses in the history of movies who is portrayed as doing the brave, smart, and proper thing every time he fires or demotes one of his workers.
His partner as he bucks the system is a nerdy Yale graduate, Peter Brand (Jonah Hill, in straight-man mode), an economics graduate and budding genius who teaches Beane about how to analyze players using raw number-crunching. A great level of detail about these numbers is in Lewis’s book, but the big-screen version (directed by Bennett Miller, who previously made Capote) is almost devoid of stats. What we learn about Beane and Brant’s newfangled way of looking at baseball is that some players are worth much more or less than their apparent market value, that a walk is as good as a hit, and that bunting and base-stealing are bad ideas.
Beane says he wants not just for the A’s to win but to “change the game,” and the movie makes it clear that he at least succeeds in this latter goal. But did he? Moneyball is about rigorous facts, so it wouldn’t want us to be so sentimental as to say that, because the A’s made the playoffs five times under Beane’s system, they’re a great team or even an above-average one. This year will mark their fifth straight year of missing the playoffs in a system in which almost thirty percent of the teams make it to the postseason.
Paul Menard’s NASCAR Sprint Cup recent win in the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has gotten people talking about buying your way into top levels of racing, so let’s talk about motorsports and nepotism… and envy.
I’m kind of confused about people complaining about Paul Menard being a member of the lucky sperm club. Though as far as I know, Keith Crain and Dutch Mandel’s publications have had the good taste to avoid that particular topic, it did come up in interviews with Menard after the race. Yes, his father is wealthy, a billionaire (though he made his money himself and seems to have done it honestly) and yes, NASCAR markets itself to middle class Americans, so I can understand some resentment, but all I have to do is mention some family names besides the Menards’ and I think most folks will immediately see how silly it is to single out Paul Menard for inheriting his spot on the grid.
And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.
Because they compete in the two separate conferences that make up the NFL, Bay Area rivals the San Francisco 49ers and the Oakland Raiders rarely meet in the regular season. But competitions between the two teams are a near-annual preseason event, in much the same way that exhibition games featuring intra-conference interstate rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, and the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans are scheduled almost every year.
Despite living in the same general area in Northern California, the worldviews of many 49ers/Raiders fans tend to be light years apart. Since at least the early ’80s, when Bill Walsh transformed the ’49ers into a Super Bowl powerhouse for the next 15 years, Niners fans were known for enjoying sushi, brie and white wine, while Raiders fans have long had a blue collar, Budweiser sort of ethic.
Yes, there are exceptions to both rules of course, but you get the picture. I certainly did a decade ago, when 3Com still owned the naming rights to Candlestick Park. I was invited to a press event at the game to announce plans to equip the stadium with an early Wi-Fi system, to be announced at one of the few regular-season match-ups between the 49ers and the Raiders on October 8th, 2000. Unfortunately, once arriving at the stadium, I took a wrong turn on the way into the parking lot. I had to traverse from the parking area of the Niners’ fans to the lot dominated by the Raiders fans, before I found the press entrance. The Niners’ fans would happily tell me where I needed to go to park. The Raiders’ fans pounded on my car and happily told me where to go. I wasn’t all that surprised — the night before, a local sportscaster said, “It’s going to be a physical game on the field — and a physical game in the parking lot.”
But that was nothing compared with last night’s game, which if initial press reports are true, may take some of the bloom off the effete image of the Niners’ fans:
In a violent night, two men were shot outside of Candlestick Park on Saturday night right after the San Francisco 49ers played the Oakland Raiders in an NFL preseason game and one man was assaulted inside a stadium restroom.
The shootings happened around 8 p.m. after the 49ers’ 17-3 victory.
San Francisco police said one victim, a 24-year-old man wearing a T-shirt referring to the 49ers with an obscenity, suffered life-threatening injuries and a 20-year-old man was hospitalized with less serious wounds.
SFPD Sgt. Frank Harrell said that the 24-year-old was shot two to four times in the stomach. He drove his truck to a gate and stumbled to security, Harrell said.
The other man was shot before that in the parking lot and had superficial face injuries, Harrell said.
“We are treating it as separate shootings, but we believe they are related,” Harrell told the Associated Press.
Harrell said police took a man in a Raiders jersey off a party bus before it left the stadium and were calling him a suspect.
The suspect and the two victims had all attended the game, Harrell said.
The shootings followed a violent incident inside of the stadium in which a 26-year-old San Rafael man was assaulted and knocked unconscious in a restroom.
Police said he was hospitalized and a suspect was arrested. There was no immediate indication that it was connected to the post-game shootings.
Henry Kissinger is often attributed with the saying that “Academic politics are so vicious because the stakes are so small.” But unless you’re actually a player competing to make the team, there’s nothing with smaller stakes than a preseason football game.
Ten years ago, NFL Films ran its Lost Treasures series on ESPN, streaming episodes of which are now online at Hulu. Looking at the footage NFL Films shot of mid-1960s-era games when the League’s then-nascent film division were still learning their craft, I was struck by how conservative and dignified most mid-’60s fans looked. There was little or no team merchandise available, so fans arrived to stadiums on Sunday looking like they had just come from church (which many no doubt had), rather than wearing rainbow-colored wigs, Darth Vader Helmets, or cheeseheads. No doubt, the games had their share of hecklers, but it’s a safe bet that in general, fans of the past were much more subdued than today’s members of Raiders Nation, the Philadelphia Eagles’ crazed fans, or…as we’ve seen in recent years, the courtside fans of the NBA’s Detroit Pistons and even at L.A. Dodgers’ baseball games.
But somehow, and without really thinking consciously about it, society has created the notion that sports arenas are a place for fans to go almost literally insane, rather than merely observe the hometown team in person, cheer for them and then go home celebrating the win, or thinking, we’ll get ‘em next time.
Readers, what happened to the average sports fan?