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NCAA Decides Not to Ruin College Football

Wednesday, March 5th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

The NCAA Rules Committee has decided to table a motion that would have required college football offenses to wait 10 seconds between plays. The recent move by some coaches toward super-hurry up offenses had some schools claiming that the increase in the number of plays put players at risk for injury.

The real problem was that some coaches couldn’t figure out how to consistently stop those light speed offenses and wanted a respite. Some teams like Oregon snap the ball so quickly, it is impossible for the defense to make substitutions — extra defensive backs for passing downs, for example. The speed of the game also puts enormous pressure on defenses to make the right call and get players in the right position. More often than not, the ball is snapped, the defense isn’t ready, and gaping holes open up for running backs, while receivers run to daylight.

But some powerful coaches didn’t like going up against these offenses and wanted to change the rules. Some coaches were referring to the proposed rule change as the “Saban Rule,” after Alabama’s hugely successful coach Nick Saban, who has been a strong critic of the hurry up, or “spread” offense, saying that it’s “logical” that the more plays there are, the better chance for injury there is. Most coaches — whether they run the up tempo offense or not — believe that’s nonsense, pointing to the lack of evidence for any such contention:

Coaches opposed to the proposal suggested other possible motives, including a philosophical divide over how football should be played. They noted the participation of Arkansas’ Bret Bielema and Alabama’s Nick Saban – who have both been vocal about the trend toward ever-faster pace – in the rules committee discussions before the proposal was initially approved.

At the time the proposal was announced, Sumlin called it “an attempt to limit the creativity of the game.” South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier called it “the Saban Rule”, suggesting his counterpart was simply attempting to advance his own aims.

Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez called the rule “ridiculous”, saying: “It’s a fundamental rule of football that the offense has two advantages: knowing where they’re going and when they’re going. The defense has one advantage: they can move all 11 guys before the snap.

“What’s next, are you gonna go to three downs rather than four downs? It’s silly.”

The debate devolved in that direction, too.

On Monday, Arizona’s official Twitter account released a video parody of the movie “Speed,” in which Rodriguez said, “I think there’s some coaches that have a hidden agenda. … They’re holding college football for ransom. … People want to see action. They don’t want to see huddles, people holding hands and singing kumbaya.”

In a text message, Rodriguez told USA TODAY Sports the video “might be a little over the top but it only took an hour of my time!”

Last week, Saban told reporters, “I don’t necessarily have an opinion on the 10-second rule.” But he added his primary concern was safety and reiterated a question he had asked before: “Was football intended to be a continuous game?”

It is well and good that the NCAA has developed rules to protect players. One proposed rule change would adopt the NFL’s “Brady Rule” to prevent quarterbacks from being hit below the knee. That’s a likely rules change that will occur next year.

But in a game where a player’s season or even career can end on the next play, does Saban have a point?

“The fastball guys (up-tempo coaches) say there’s no data out there, and I guess you have to use some logic,” Saban told ESPN. “What’s the logic? If you smoke one cigarette, do you have the same chances of getting cancer if you smoke 20? I guess there’s no study that specifically says that. But logically, we would say, ‘Yeah, there probably is.’”

It is doubtful that any meaningful study will “prove” that running the spread offense is necessarily more dangerous than a normal offense. You’re going to have to prove that the specific style of play contributed to the injury. Otherwise, who’s to say that if the team had been running a normal offense, the injury wouldn’t have occurred anyway?

I say, let ‘em play. Eventually, some smart defensive coach will simplify things to the point where defenses will be able to stop the up tempo offense on a regular basis. That’s the way its been with every offensive innovation that’s come down the pike. From the forward pass, to the “T” formation, the swing wing, the wishbone — eventually, defenses were developed to counter all those formations and plays.

Coach Saban would do well to concentrate on finding a way to stop the spread offense on the field rather than in the rules committee.

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For the Chicago Bulls, a Season that Defies Reality

Monday, March 3rd, 2014 - by Rick Moran

If you’re a fan of the Chicago Bulls, November 22, 2013 is the second worst day in the history of the franchise. The fact that the cause of the worst day in Bulls history — April 27, 2012 — was exactly the same as the second worst day speaks volumes about the fortunes of the team over the last 3 years.

On both those dates, former MVP Derek Rose went down with serious knee injuries. The 2012 injury happened in the first round of the playoffs against Philadelphia. The Bulls never recovered from that blow, losing in 6 games to the 76′ers after entering the post season as the top seed in the East.

After a full year of rehab, Rose returned to the game rusty, but apparently none the worse for wear. He was struggling, but improving when tragedy struck again, a torn meniscus shelving him for the season. It was a cruel blow for a team aching to prove themselves against two-time champion Miami Heat, who defeated them in a memorable conference championship series in 2012, and the rising Indiana Pacers who proved they could compete with anyone.

Once again, the body blow of losing Rose laid them low. By December 9, they were 8 games under .500 and some fans were openly urging the team to “tank” the season — deliberately lose games so that they could have a better chance at a high draft pick.

But the Bull’s mercurial coach Tom Thibideau wouldn’t allow such nonsense. Taking their cue from their fiercely competitive leader, center Joachim Noah, the Bulls began to claw their way back to respectability.

But then, another blow fell when team management couldn’t sign all-star forward Luol Deng to a contract extension, and traded him to Cleveland for Andrew Bynum — who they summarily released — and a couple of mid-level draft picks. It was a salary dump, nothing more.

Perhaps even more than Rose’s injury, the trade of Deng hurt the team psychologically. It was a sure sign that ownership had given up on the season and was pointing to adding pieces next year to make a run for glory.

For Noah, it was close to heresy. Deng was one of his best friends on the team and for a week following the trade, the usually outgoing center refused to talk to the media. Speculation was he couldn’t trust himself not to go off on management and create a rift that would be hard to heal.

Finally a week after the deal, Noah opened up with a few beat reporters for the local papers. Yes, he was upset, but that didn’t matter.

“The trade definitely hurt,” Noah said, adding that he had spoken to Deng about it. “But we got to move on. I feel confident in this team; we’re working really hard. A lot of people say this is a business and all that but this game is more than a business to me. I put everything I got into this. I feel like Lu was the same way so it was hard for me to digest. But that’s just my perspective, that’s just my side of the story. Everybody has a different job. I’m not mad at anybody. I’m not mad at the organization or anything like that. It’s just that my brother isn’t here anymore. So I just needed a little bit of time to digest that.”

Noah has shrugged off the Rose injury, the Deng trade, the pundits and reporters who say the Bulls can’t win, and the fans who were asking him and his teammates to quit on the year, and has raised the level of his play beyond anyone’s expectations to carry the Bulls to the best record in the East since January 1, 2014.

How the Bulls are doing this having the 30th – and worst — ranked offense in the league is astonishing. But there is sorcery at work here — the rarest kind of magic one can find at the professional level.

This group of middling talents, rejects, youngsters, and veterans actually like each other. They play for each other. They believe in each other. And perhaps most importantly of all, they have bought into their coaches’ belief in them and are currently playing some of the best basketball in the league.

It’s not always pretty. They have no one on the team that can create their own shot, although their candidate for Sixth Man of the Year, Taj Gibson, has developed a nice little low post game. But with the 24 second clock winding down, they’re just as likely to take a wild, 3-point attempt as they are to get a bail out jumper.

It doesn’t matter. Noah has become one of the top passing centers in the league, and in recent games the Bulls have begun to work their offense through him. This has meant fewer bail out shots and more pick and pop jumpers from reasonable range. The results are impressive, at least in the short term.

What of the near future? If the past is prologue, it’s a good bet that no team, no matter where they are seeded, are going to want to play the Bulls in the playoffs:

“When you deal with all the adversity we’ve been through this year, it makes your group that much tougher and stronger,” Bulls leader Joakim Noah said Friday night. “We’re going to be that resilient group, that tough group that is going to be very, very tough to play in the playoffs.”

It’s easy to talk that way now, the Bulls assuming the postseason. That looked uncertain in the first week of January after the Deng trade, when it looked like the team was preparing to head into the lottery. But primarily because of the leadership of coach Tom Thibodeau and especially Noah, the players never questioned where this season was headed.

They were disheartened when Rose went down again in November. They were downright mad when Deng was salary-dumped. But they’ve never done anything but give everything on the floor, and it’s led to win after win. The talent and the luck aren’t like it was back in 2010-11, when everything went their way and they racked up 62 wins before getting beat in the conference finals, but their execution and effort is the same.

They had seven different players average double figures in scoring in February, when they went 9-4 despite playing nine of those 13 games on the road. Noah is the team leader in rebounds … and assists, a pairing you will find nowhere else from the center position. Taj Gibson is having a career season. Midseason pickup D.J. Augustin is resurrecting his career. Accused of running his players into the ground in seasons past, Thibodeau doesn’t have any Bull averaging more than 36 minutes per night

Noah, who at one time in his 7 year career was thought to be something of a goof, with his pony tail, and antics on the court. But the mature Noah is less carefree, more careful in his statements, and very conscious of the leadership role he plays on the team. His intensity is frightening, and he’s not shy about calling out a teammate if he isn’t pleased with their play — or their enthusiasm. Just recently, Noah glowered at rookie Tony Snell who didn’t perform an enthusiastic “chest bump” to his satisfaction.

No, the Bulls will not win an NBA championship this year. They probably won’t get past the second round, given that either of their likely opponents — Indiana or Miami — can most assuredly beat them in a 7-game series. But whoever they play, their opponent will know they’ve been in a war. And who knows? When a team possesses magic, anything can happen.

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Is Julian Green the Future of US Soccer?

Friday, February 28th, 2014 - by Rick Moran

Eighteen year old soccer phenom Julian Green has a big decision to make in the next few months. Green holds dual citizenship with the US and Germany and both national teams would dearly love to have him in their future.

At 18, Green has already been called up to play for current European champion Bayern Munich. Perennially one of the best club teams in the world playing in what is acknowledged as one of the top leagues in the world, The Bavarians have been developing Green for three years, bringing him along on their youth squad while the youngster also played on the German national Under 16 and Under 17 teams. He is currently on the German Under 19 team, which presents a problem for the US national squad.

Under international rules, Green can’t play for both the US and Germany. But he can ask FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, for a one time waiver to play for the US. This is what US coach Jurgen Klinsman is hoping for and to that end has invited Green to practice with the US national team prior to a March 5 friendly with Ukraine.

ESPN:

Green, a dual national who holds both U.S. and German citizenship, will participate in a two-day training camp with the U.S. next week ahead of Wednesday’s friendly with Ukraine. Green is currently tied to Germany due to his participation with the German U-19 team, and thus isn’t eligible to play in Wednesday’s match.

But he could file a one-time switch with FIFA should he decided to pledge his international future with the U.S. team. Next week’s training stint will give Klinsmann a chance to convince Green to do just that.

“We’re thrilled that [Green] is coming in actually” said Klinsmann, who was speaking at a USSF-sponsored Google Hangout. “He’s coming in for the two days of training with team, and we get to know him. More importantly, he gets to know us a little bit. He meets his teammates, he meets the coaching staff, and we have time then to explain a little bit how the U.S. national team program works.”

Klinsmann made it clear that he won’t be applying any high-pressure sales tactics on Green. Instead, he’s hoping that the benefits of playing for the U.S. will become clear to the Tampa, Fla. native.

“We kind of approach [Green’s visit] very casual, very easy. But at the end of the day, we hope down the road that he decides to go with us, and like in many cases of the dual citizenship players, we hope more and more that they want to play for the U.S. because we are just getting better.”

With just a little over two months remaining until Klinsmann names his preliminary 30-man roster for this summer’s World Cup, there had been speculation that the U.S. manager might be saving a spot for Green.

But Klinsmann insisted that there is no deadline for Green to make a decision.

What is there to get excited about if Green chooses the USA? Here’s a sample of some of his play:

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He’s got a field presence off the charts for his age. He is said to have a powerful leg and is strong with the ball — both qualities that are somewhat lacking among US forwards. And he appears to have a nose for the goal — an innate ability that can’t be taught. Further,

If Green does pick the U.S. over Germany, he has the ability and talent to become a focal point of the next generation of U.S. stars. Watching video clips of him playing for Bayern’s reserve side, he has poise, possesses a lethal shot, has skill, bags of pace and an eye for a pass. He has scored 15 goals and added six assists in 18 games for Bayern II this season, and at the age of 18 he has everything you’d want to see from a professional soccer player. Plus he’s being developed at the reigning European champions Bayern Munich where he’s highly thought of. This kid has star potential, no wonder the U.S. are so desperate to get him on board as the Olympics, Gold Cup and future World Cup qualifying tournaments hover on the horizon.

Grabbing Green from Germany would be a massive feather in the cap for Klinsmann and his squad. The two day training stint in Frankfurt later this week could have a huge impact on the future of the U.S. national team, as the USA roll out the red carpet for Green in hope he’ll chose to play for his homeland.

Landon Donovan, the face of US men’s soccer for more than a decade, recently announced that Brazil would be his last World Cup. There are several fine, young US-born players just now coming into their own with some of the best European teams. The future of US soccer looks promising.

But if the USA is ever going to reach the next level of international competition where they are actually mentioned in the same breath as the top sides in the world, they are going to need a superstar. No one knows if Julian Green will pan out to reach the potential he appears to possess. But if he does, and if he chooses to play for America, soccer in this country will never be the same.

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Debunked: U.S. Speedskating’s ‘Suit-gate’

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

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The U.S.A. (the well-established, dominant power in speedskating) has had an abysmal performance at the Olympics this year.  Big names like Shani Davis and Heather Richardson haven’t held fists full of medals as predicted. So far, they haven’t even been close. A piece in The New York Times (as well as several other news sources) are reporting that the equipment was possibly to blame.  The victim?  The U.S. speedskating team’s racing suits.  (Of course, it must be the equipment’s fault…)

SUIT-GATE.

At the games, the U.S. team debuted state-of-the-art skin suits made by Under Armour and Lockheed Martin.  The suit was called the Mach 39 and was crafted in a wind tunnel.  It was cutting edge.

Athletes and coaches decided not to unveil the suits prior to the Olympics because they didn’t want anyone to steal the technology. Ah, ze secret veapon!

Plan foiled.

Suits worn but no medals.

It is whispered that the suits must have been defective…

Nope. Stop blaming the suits–and here’s why…

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Tell Your Kids About This U.S. Olympian

Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 - by David Steinberg

Colorado’s Noah Hoffman competed in the skiathlon event this weekend, a new event consisting of 15K of classic cross-country skiing technique and 15K of freestyle. All told, it’s just over an hour of pain for world-class skiers.

Hoffman looked strong during the classic portion, staying just a few seconds behind the lead pace, until he crashed on a curve — and broke one of his poles. He eventually received a replacement, but he had lost too much time to compete for a medal.

The fall was the last a television viewer would see of Hoffman for about 45 minutes, until a huffing, driving, navy blue Team U.S.A. uniform made the turn for the final 100-meter stretch to the finish. Below, about 15 feet from the line, that blurred figure is Hoffman, giving it everything he’s got to pass one more not-as-driven competitor:

noahhoffman

 

Hoffman pushed himself right to the finish line … so he could finish 35th instead of 36th. No one else in that picture had as much heart in the game as he did.

Hoffman caught them all after skiing part of the race with one pole, for goodness sake, and I can’t even figure how that worked. Maybe he held it with two hands and pushed between his legs, or something.

Coloradoans: when Hoffman gets back home, see to it that he doesn’t pay for his own beer.

****
Cross-posted from David Steinberg’s new blog Self-Evident

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10 Reasons Why Animal Planet’s Puppy Bowl X Was Better Than Super Bowl XLVIII

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 - by Becky Graebner

1. The players were puppies.

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2. There was no crying in the stands after plays

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3. Kittens! (one even used a parachute)

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4. You didn’t cringe after the ball was snapped…

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5. You stayed awake.

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Dear Post-Game 9/11 ‘Truther’

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

Dear Mr. Mills,

I thought you might appreciate some feedback regarding your recent trespass into MetLife Stadium during the Super Bowl. You went to a lot of trouble, lying your way past several layers of security before gaining access to a televised post-game interview where you seized the microphone and called upon the audience to “investigate 9/11.” The least I can do is offer this brief response.

Of course, if I really wanted to do your effort justice, I would have to trespass into your home as you trespassed into the homes of tens of millions through the magic of television and impose my views upon you without your consent. Be that as it may, I trust you will choose to consider my opinion without me shoving it down your throat.

I just wanted to let you know what we normals took away from your brief bleating about our government killing thousands of its own citizens on September 11, 2001. If that claim were not ludicrous on its face, having it shouted rudely in the middle of a post-game interview may have caused some to doubt its veracity.

Here’s the thing, Matt. If you expect anyone to believe that “truth” motivates your actions, you may want to conduct yourself truthfully. Lying to law enforcement and security personnel to gain unauthorized access to a platform you do not own does not imbue your message with credibility.

I know you think the end justifies the means, and that the importance of your message justifies any action taken to propagate it. But you’re wrong. We have free speech in this country. That does not entitle you to a venue or an audience. We also have free association, which means individuals get to choose to whom they listen. When you jumped in front of the camera and seized the microphone for those few seconds, you trampled on the free-association right of tens of millions of people. It wasn’t just rude, though it was surely that. It was a violation, a trespass, and probably a crime.

Before you or your buddies in the “truther” movement try a similar stunt in the future, realize that your message has gotten out just fine without rights-violating tactics. It’s not that we’re not hearing it. We’re just not buying it. Factor that truth into your paradigm.

Sincerely,

Walter Hudson

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Stripping Down for the Motherland

Monday, February 3rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg
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Freestyle skier Ekaterina Stolyarova

 

In the best PR stunt since Putin’s shirtless hunting and fishing expedition, Russia’s female Olympic athletes have stripped down to welcome the world to Sochi.

The country that used to permit the performance of “Can’t Buy Me Love” on the grounds that it was a song critical of prostitution in the West has no problem pimping out its female athletes to soften its rather uptight image ahead of the Olympic Games. The salacious images portray female athletes in poses more typical of lingerie models, pole dancers, and strippers than skiers, curlers and hockey players.

Russian male athletes have yet to pony up to the cameras and bare near-all.

When asked how photos of nearly naked female athletes will quell the concerns surrounding the Sochi games, including “disputes about homophobia, world leaders refusing to attend, and mega-security  at Sochi,” the response received was: “It is democratic to look at half naked women. Women are beautiful.  Everyone likes a pretty girl. Which is why we send ugly ones to Siberia.”

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Curler Ekaterina Galkina

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Does God Care Who Wins the Super Bowl?

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard

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A group called American Atheists is sponsoring a digital billboard near MetLife Stadium targeted at Super Bowl attendees. Six times each hour through Super Bowl Sunday the billboard will proclaim, “A ‘Hail Mary’ Only Works in Football. Enjoy the Game!”

“Prayer is superstition, plain and simple,” says American Atheists President David Silverman.

It trivializes the dedication of the players and takes away from their achievements. A third of football fans pray in hopes of helping their team. These are adults we’re talking about—people with children, people with careers, people who vote. It’s 2014; it’s time to stop believing that prayer works. Give credit where credit is due and celebrate what this is really about—coming together to cheer on hard-working athletes doing what they do best.

On Fox News’ The Five on Friday, Greg Gutfeld seemed to agree.  ”If prayer actually works in a game no one would ever lose,” Gutfeld said. He added, “I don’t believe God designed the world on who’s the best pray-er.”

On the surface, Gutfeld and the atheists have a point. Several years ago when my son was playing football for a Christian school, the teams would huddle together before the games for a short prayer. As the team’s captain, Ryan was often called upon to lead the prayer, along with the captain of the opposing team. He admitted at one point that it didn’t seem right for both teams to pray to win and he thought it was especially awkward to pray for a win in the presence of the other team. They were, after all, asking God to bestow his favor upon one Christian team and not the other. How would God ever choose? Would he pick the team with the “best” Christians? The most fervent pray-ers? Or does God not bother with such trivial things as the outcomes of football games?

In the end, my son decided that he would pray for all the players to do their best and that God would protect them. He also prayed that he and the other boys would demonstrate Christ-like attitudes on the field and that they would honor God in the way they played the game.  He would leave the outcome up to God and then play to win.

So does God care who wins the Super Bowl or the curling competition at the Winter Olympics or your family’s Monopoly game? Two of God’s attributes, his omniscience and his sovereignty, as described in the Bible, help to explain God’s view of matters that may seem trivial upon first glance.

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A Baseball Mom’s Take on Richard Sherman’s NFL Postgame Rant

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014 - by Paula Bolyard
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“We’re talking about football here, and a lot of people took it further than football,” Sherman said. “I was on a football field showing passion. Maybe it was misdirected and immature, but this is a football field. I wasn’t committing any crimes and doing anything illegal. I was showing passion after a football game.” — Richard Sherman, Seattle Seahawks cornerback

Our family’s first foray into youth sports didn’t go quite as planned. The female coach who had volunteered to coach our son’s T-ball team told the children on the first day that the players who didn’t get dirty would get candy at the end of the game. A few parents took this well-meaning (but misguided) mother aside and explained to her a few things about the nature of boys and something about the physical properties of  baseball and dirt and informed her that their sons would not be participating in her little “clean game” nonsense. This was our introduction to the ubiquitous drama that permeates youth sports leagues.

My husband and I spent a lot of years coaching youth sports as our sons grew up — baseball, soccer, basketball — mostly because we were the only parents who didn’t drop-and-run. We weren’t savvy enough in the early years to realize that you are by default the U4 soccer coach if you’re the only parent left on the field five minutes after practice is scheduled to begin (other parents, making a beeline to the parking lot, shouted to us, “The whistle and cones are in the blue crate! We’ll see you in an hour. Good luck!”)

We always believed it was important for our boys to participate in team sports, not only for physical fitness reasons, but because they were of the male gender and we thought that participating in sports would be a good way for them to learn to control and channel the aggression that is inherent to their maleness.

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The End Of The Extra Point?

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 - by Chris Queen

Extra Point

My first post for PJ Lifestyle nearly two and a half years ago dealt with the nanny state mentality in the league office of the NFL. Back then, I wrote about the ideas that stem from Commissioner Roger Goodell’s office that don’t always sit well with players and/or fans. This week, in an interview with NFL Network’s Rich Eisen, Goodell mentioned an idea that is sure to generate controversy: getting rid of the extra point.

“The extra point is almost automatic,” Goodell said. “I believe we had five missed extra points this year out of 1,200 some odd (attempts). So it’s a very small fraction of the play, and you want to add excitement with every play.

[...]

Extra points — with a 99.1 percent success rate since 2004 — have become an afterthought. Unless you’re up against Lawrence Taylor in Tecmo Bowl, there’s virtually zero drama attached to the point after.

Goodell has an ally in New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick, who has argued for abolishing the extra point for years:

I would be in favor of not seeing [extra points] be an over 99 percent conversion rate. It’s virtually automatic. That’s just not the way the extra point was put into the game. It was an extra point that you actually had to execute and it was executed by players who were not specialists, they were position players. It was a lot harder for them to do… I don’t think that’s really a very exciting play because it’s so automatic.

Now, I know what some football fans are asking: what about two point conversions? Goodell brings them up:

“There’s one proposal in particular that I’ve heard about,” Goodell went on. “It’s automatic that you get seven points when you score a touchdown, but you could potentially go for an eighth point, either by running or passing the ball, so if you fail, you go back to six.”

With a two-point conversion success rate of 47.9%, it’s an interesting perspective. But what do kickers think? My friend Rex Robinson, former New England Patriots (and University of Georgia) kicker, weighed in on Facebook:

I would move the PAT back 10 yards before I eliminated it…it is a gimme play now-a-days.

What do you think? Should the NFL eliminate the extra point attempt? Should teams get a choice of an automatic seven point touchdown or “going for two” and risking losing a point? Should the league make the PAT more challenging? Share your opinion in the comments section below.

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There Isn’t Enough Booze in the World, Dennis Rodman

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 - by Bethany Mandel

North-Korean-leader-Kim-Jong-Un-and-former-NBA-star-Dennis-Rodman-hug-on-Feb.-28-2013.-Photo-via-AFP.

It’s an excuse as old as time. Got caught cheating on your wife? Tell her you were drunk. Unplanned quicky wedding in Vegas? Yup, drunk. Unplanned pregnancy? People have been blaming their state of inebriation for that for thousands of years. But palling around with a genocidal maniac? Well, congratulations Dennis Rodman, that’s a new one.

Shortly after returning home from yet another trip to North Korea (not to the gulags or frozen homes without electricity, just the stadiums and luxury accommodations), Rodman finally realized what we’ve all been saying for months: He’s lost his mind. CNN reports on the basketball star’s new home for the next month: rehab.

“Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination ‘super human’ political figure and ‘fixer’ got the better of him,” his agent, Darren Prince, said Sunday in a written statement. “He is embarrassed, saddened and remorseful for the anger and hurt his words have caused.”

Prince said Rodman is at a facility in New Jersey, one with a “28- or 30-day” program. He said Rodman drank heavily in North Korea during a recent tumultuous trip to the secretive state to play a basketball game with some former NBA stars against national team players from the regime.

“His drinking escalated to a level that none of us had seen before,” Prince said Saturday.

Rodman — the colorful basketball Hall of Famer who won five NBA titles while the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls — said alcohol was one reason he shot from the lip earlier this month and told CNN that an American imprisoned in North Korea since 2012 may have done something to deserve his sentence of 15 years’ hard labor.

After Kenneth Bae’s family complained, Rodman apologized, saying he was under stress and had been drinking when he was interviewed on CNN’s “New Day.”

Sorry, Dennis, but you may have been able to blame the tattoos, the outfits, and the girlfriends on booze, but not this. I’ve written extensively on the horrifying human rights situation North Korea for Commentary and The Federalist, and have unfortunately spent more time than I ever would have otherwise intended writing on Rodman’s “basketball diplomacy” in the Hermit Kingdom. It’s about time that Rodman wised up to the fact that it isn’t always the case that “any publicity is good publicity.” CNN reported that Rodman told the media: ”I’m sorry for what’s going on in North Korea, the certain situations.” But he didn’t apologize for his visit.

“Certain situations”? Really? Let’s hope that the rehab facility Rodman is in has a 12-step program. If it does, Rodman owes it to the victims of Kim Jong-Un to make amends.

******

Image source: Raw Story

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NFL Divisional Playoffs Open Thread

Saturday, January 11th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

Kam Chancellor

Are you ready for some football? Who isn’t? (Or as Saints fans are screaming now, who dat?) Seattle’s getting ready for an earthquake, and the cameras are getting ready for Tom Brady. San Francisco’s prepping for a much warmer game than last week, and the Chargers are aiming for a mile-high upset.

The sked:

Today, 4:35 p.m. on Fox: New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks

Today, 8:15 p.m. on CBS: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots

Sunday, 1:05 p.m. on Fox: San Francisco 49ers at Carolina Panthers

Sunday, 4:40 p.m. on CBS: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

Here’s how the guys at ESPN are feeling going into this playoff round:

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Here’s how Paul Ryan and Patty Murray, budget BFFs, feel going into this round:

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And, naturally, here’s how I feel (#QuestForSix):

Colin Kaepernick

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NFL Playoffs Wildcard Open Thread: Cold Bowl Doesn’t Ice the Niners

Monday, January 6th, 2014 - by Bridget Johnson

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That’s an Instagram of San Francisco 49ers quaterback Colin Kaepernick and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Ricardo Lockette (formerly of the 49ers practice squad) hitting the range in the offseason.

Yesterday, as Wisconsites crowed that the frigid temperatures and the not-at-all-green field in Green Bay would be too much for the California team, Kaepernick hit his target. He played without any sleeves under his jersey and led the team to a 23-20 victory in the first round of the NFL playoffs. The game was sealed in the final seconds on a 33-yard field goal from veteran kicker Phil Dawson, acquired last year from the Cleveland Browns.

The Wild Card round this weekend certainly had its nailbiters and surprises, with the Indiana Colts edging the Kansas City Chiefs 45-44 and the New Orleans Saints topping the Philadelphia Eagles 26-24. The San Diego Chargers beat the Cincinnati Bengals 27-10.

Next weekend the playoffs head to the divisional round. The first game on Saturday is the Saints and Seahawks, followed by the New England Patriots and the Colts. On Sunday, the Niners play the Carolina Panthers and the Chargers face off with the Denver Broncos.

As a longtime 49ers fan back to my childhood and the Joe Montana era, I’m pretty partial to this assessment by ESPN NFL writer Kevin Seifert:

The 49ers are the best team in football, and if they continue to play the way they did Sunday, they will win Super Bowl XLVIII next month.

Their offense is poised to outscore the Carolina Panthers next weekend in the NFC divisional round. Their defense is a good matchup for the Seattle Seahawks, their likely opponent in the NFC Championship Game. They’re tougher than the Denver Broncos and more versatile than the New England Patriots.

I don’t regard this prediction as particularly bold, at least not to an audience that has paid attention to the NFL over the past two months. Sunday marked the 49ers’ seventh consecutive victory and their 12th in the past 14 games. Their two losses during that period came against two playoff teams (the Panthers and Saints) by a total of four points.

…I realize that a 20-point victory Sunday might have filled the 49ers bandwagon more quickly, but to me a championship-caliber team is measured best when it faces adverse conditions. No one cruises to the Super Bowl title. At some point, you must overcome circumstances that would otherwise sink you.

You know where my fidelity is at. It was a tough season last time around when my Niners made it to the Super Bowl and my Fighting Irish made it to the BCS championship and both lost. Now it’s all about the Quest for Six — and, today, the many Packers fans here in D.C. (yep, there are a lot of them in the nation’s capital) who hate me. Share your thoughts about where you think the race to the Vince Lombardi Trophy is headed.

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College Football Star Lets His Geek Flag Fly

Monday, December 16th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Chris Conley

On Saturdays in the fall, Chris Conley puts on a uniform and goes into battle, where his legs and arms serve as weapons. The wide receiver at the University of Georgia will finish up his junior season on January 1 at the Gator Bowl, but once the season ends, Conley will don a different uniform and brandish a different type of weapon. He is organizing a light saber duel for friends at UGA to film:

Other than his No. 31 jersey he wears for the Georgia football team, the junior receiver has a Star Wars Jedi costume he will break out on special occasions. Like when he wore it to the Gym Dogs’ meet against Alabama on Feb. 2.

“It was pretty epic,” Conley said. “I was dressed as a Jedi and we had two Storm Troopers.” But he is hoping it’ll come in handy again sometime soon.

Conley is trying to organize lightsaber duels on UGA’s campus with other fellow Star Wars fanatics. His campaign to get production of the fan film going began on Twitter.

[...]

“I’ve actually had a lot of response,” Conley said. “A lot of people really want to do this. It’s something I’m kind of spearheading. It’s been a goal of mine before I graduate. This is just for me, just for fun. All of the people who are involved like that sort of thing and we accept our nerdiness.”

Conley began tapping into all of his possible resources. He recruited a Georgia football videographer — Frank Martin, who has overseen the production of the Bulldogs’ pregame hype videos, such as A Letter for Larry and Awaken The Nation — has been out shopping for props to build lightsabers and has continued to build his production team.

Conley doesn’t yet have a timeline for his project, but he and Martin are scouting locations, designing props, and recruiting participants.

The Bulldog star admits to being a fan of the Star Wars franchise since he was a kid – along with the rest of his family – and he freely admits his geekdom:

“My brother and I got into the games and into the some of the Star Wars history outside of the movies and I’ve just been a fan of it ever since,” Conley said. “I’ve been a big guy who prides myself on remaining who I am regardless of who I’m around or how old I get. It’s something that I like and regardless of what people tell me, if it’s frowned upon or not. It’s me.”

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Cade Foster Received Pretty Much The Coolest Note Of Encouragement Ever

Friday, December 13th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

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Cade Foster had a rough night on November 30. The place kicker for the Alabama Crimson Tide missed two field goals in their game against in-state rival Auburn, while the Tigers blocked another of Foster’s kicks.  Auburn cornerback Chris Davis actually returned the last missed field goal 109 yards for a fluke, game-winning touchdown.

Some Alabama fans displayed a complete lack of class, sending hateful tweets and even death threats to the senior kicker. However, just a few days after the game, Foster received a letter of encouragement from someone unexpected:

Now he has the support of a former president.

Foster showed off this note from George W. Bush on his Instagram account Wednesday.

The note says: “Dear Cade (#43), Life has its setbacks. I know! However you will be a stronger human with time. I wish you all the best- Sincerely- another 43 George Bush.”

Foster said he will definitely frame this keepsake.

If a surprise letter from a former president (and true class act) doesn’t lift Foster’s spirits, nothing will.

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A Rare Class Act In Pro Sports Pens A Love Letter To The City He Left Behind

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

Tim Hudson

These days, most professional athletes don’t do themselves many favors in the eye of the public. Take Alex Rodriguez, Richie Incognito, or Aaron Hernandez, for example. Most pro athletes tend to come across as spoiled brats who care more about their next paycheck than with connecting with their fans. Class acts in professional sports don’t come around often enough, but when they do,  fans take notice. One true example of class is Tim Hudson.

Hudson, 38, joined the Braves before the 2005 season. A free agent this year, he signed a two-year, $23 million contract with the San Francisco Giants after the Braves declined to match the Giants’ offer. Over the weekend, Hudson shared an open letter to Braves fans with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His love for Atlanta shines through in this display of gratitude and emotion:

When I was traded from the Oakland A’s to the Atlanta Braves before the 2005 season, a childhood dream was realized. I grew up a Braves fan just a few hours south of Atlanta, and it was hard for me to believe that I was going to actually play for the Atlanta Braves and legendary manager Bobby Cox. My family was young. We had a toddler (Kennedie), a baby (Tess) and a baby on the way (Kade). We were welcomed into the Braves organization with open arms. Our son was born two weeks into my first season, and our journey began. The Atlanta Braves are really all that our children know about this crazy baseball life, and we are so thankful for this upbringing for them.

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The Fastest Way to Annoy a Canadian

Thursday, November 21st, 2013 - by Leslie Loftis

Love CanadaA friend of ours, a Canadian serial expat, speaks at legal conferences. In the grand tradition of opening with a joke, he sometimes starts by telling a story about U.S. vs. Canada Olympic hockey. The last time the Canadians beat the U.S., he asked some Americans about it. The American answered, “It sucks to lose. But at least we lost to Canada. I’m happy to see Canada win.” “No, no, no!” our friend protested. “You are supposed to be spitting mad that you got beat by your mortal rival! We want a rivalry!”

In sports, this unrequited rivalry is funny. He gets laughs when he tells it. But like many funny things, the humor comes from just touching the truth. The actual truth has a bit of sting to it.

Last week I was in Toronto. I arrived just after the Toronto City Council stripped Mayor Rob Ford of his authority. In the non-stop news coverage, the local news was a little giddy that U.S. big media was covering the story. They even excerpted part of CNN’s coverage.

The reporter’s excitement at the big U.S. coverage reminded me of my friend’s hockey story, and that bothered me. This wasn’t about rivalry, but about us noticing them. Doesn’t the northern U.S. cover Canada? Down in Texas, I’m not shocked that we don’t cover Canada. We cover Mexico. (I don’t buy the internationally ignorant American conventional wisdom. We are quite big. I can hop in a car and drive west for 15+ hours and still be in Texas. The American Resident covered this point well a while back.) Regardless, it isn’t remotely cool, for CNN or Canada, that this story was getting play outside of Toronto.

I sighed, made a mental note to discuss this with my Canadian friends later, and picked up Kay Hymowitz’s Manning Up which I was using for debate prep. (I was there to attend a debate on “The End of Men.” ) I forgot about Mayor Ford and the exceptional case of Canadian coverage for a few hours.

But at the debate, America’s treatment of Canada came up again, courtesy of Maureen Dowd.

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Climate of Hate: Redskins Bus Egged on the Way to Game in Philly

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013 - by Bryan Preston

When will Slate and other leftwing publications answer for the climate of anti-Redskins hate they have created?

PHILADELPHIA (CBSDC) — The Washington Redskins team bus was apparently egged on the way to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia Sunday morning.

Defensive lineman Chris Baker posted a photo of the egg smeared side of the vehicle on Instagram.

Hate: It’s what’s for breakfast.

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*****

Cross-posted from PJ Tatler

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Dolphins’ Coaches Reportedly Told Richie Incongito to Toughen Up Jonathan Martin

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 - by Chris Queen

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I just wrote about the brewing scandal involving the Miami Dolphins and the alleged bullying of offensive tackle Jonathan Martin. Apparently, the situation contains further wrinkles that we’re just learning today. The Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel has reported that Dolphins coaches told teammate Richie Incognito to toughen Martin up, though Incognito may have taken the instruction too far:

Sources say that communication took place when Martin skipped two days of the team’s OTA program, and Incognito was encouraged by his coaches to make a call that would “get him into the fold,” one source said.

Even though OTA workouts are voluntary, the NFL culture forces coaches to strong arm the team’s leaders to make sure everyone attends. Sources say Incognito was doing his job, but they admit he crossed the line.

Incognito spoke out to the press for the first time this week, telling a local reporter, ”You know what, I’m just trying to weather the storm right now… this will pass.”

Other Dolphins players, though supportive of Martin, say he should have spoken out sooner.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe indicated that Martin should have come to the leadership council with his problems, which apparently carried over to his second season. The problem is Incognito was also on the leadership council, and possessed a tremendous amount of power and influence.

That might explain why Martin hid his issues with Incognito, and on occasion hung around with him in South Florida, and during road trips. It is possible Martin felt he had to do so to feel accepted.

Martin remains on the team’s 53-man roster, and his teammates have indicated that they would welcome him back when he is ready to return.

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The Miami Dolphins: A Soap Opera for Football Fans

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 - by Chris Queen
Jonathan Martin took a leave of absence from the Miami Dolphins on October 28.

Jonathan Martin took a leave of absence from the Miami Dolphins on October 28.

Football fans love drama. The back and forth of close games, the thrill of a come-from-behind victory, the outsized personalities — all of these make for plenty of excitement in the NFL. However, one team is making headlines for its off-the-field drama far more than for its on-the-field antics these days. The Miami Dolphins have suddenly found themselves embroiled in a controversy involving player hazing, bullying, and harassment, with the added twist of apparent racism.

The soap opera began last week when second -ear offensive tackle Jonathan Martin took a leave of absence from the team, claiming other players bullied him.

Martin left Dolphins headquarters on Monday when finally reaching his limit with the persistent bullying and teasing from some teammates that has plagued him since joining Miami as a 2012 second-round draft choice. As first reported by FOX Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer, the latest taunt – a group of players stood up and left when he tried joining them for lunch – led to Martin getting up himself and walking out the door.

There is no timetable for a return, which could lead Miami to ultimately place him on the reserve/non-football injury list. It also raises questions about his future with the franchise.

This wasn’t an abrupt action by Martin, who is Stanford-educated and the son of two lawyers who attended Harvard University. A source said Martin has tried dealing with a slew of indignities that crossed into personal and family insults, including being bestowed with the nickname of “Big Weirdo.”

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Dare You Not to Cry: Autistic Football Player ‘Big Mike’ Runs for a 31-Yard Touchdown

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 - by Paula Bolyard
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The Rittman Indians have been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. A poem read in class by disgruntled Indians football player Nick Andre – an ill-conceived English assignment —  lambasted the head coach, his teammates, and the team’s losing record and sloppy play. When the 16-year-old Ohio player was suspended and kicked off the team for what the school principal called “hazing and harassment,” the story went viral, even making the national news. After serving part of his 4-day suspension, Andre was allowed back on the team, but not before the head coach resigned in the wake of the controversy. Suffice it to say that it’s been a bad year for the Indians with little hope of redeeming the season.

But with the help of coaches from the Waynedale Golden Bears and the officials, the Indians season ended on an remarkably positive note on Friday. The Daily Record’s Aaron Dorksen reported:

Coaches on the Rittman and Waynedale sidelines were both thinking the same thing in the final minutes of what would turn out to be a 49-6 Golden Bears’ win Friday: “Let’s let ‘Big Mike’ score a touchdown.”

The players and even game officials all got in on it, too.

So with less than a minute left in the season finale for both teams, the spotlight and the football were given to Rittman senior Michael Halliwell, a 6-foot-5, 300-pounder with autism who was seeing his first varsity action of the year on that drive.

For the first few plays, Halliwell had lined up at left tackle and the PA announcer congratulated him for a good block.

Indians coach Lane Knore used his final timeout to set up a handoff from quarterback Matt Evans to Halliwell, who ran it 31 yards with 22 seconds left for the most heart-warming touchdown anyone in Indians Stadium is likely to ever see. A Rittman assistant had run over to Waynedale’s sideline just prior to the play to ask Bears coach Matt Zuercher and his staff if it would be OK, to which Zuercher responded, “We were already thinking the same thing.”

Waynedale’s coaches, including defensive coordinator, Todd Barkan, who is a special education teacher, had taken the players to a local children’s home earlier in the week to perform community service. “We talked about giving back and helping others, but who knew we’d be able to do something like that in our game Friday? It was a special night for our team to be a part of, too,” Coach Zuercher told the Daily Record.

Mike’s father, Allen Halliwell, told the Daily Record that to “Big Mike” the touchdown was real. “He ran as fast as he ever has, all 6-5, 300 pounds of him clutching the ball with two hands until teammates mobbed him in the end zone.” He said the Golden Bears congratulated him as well. ”Mike is proud to be a Rittman Indian,” Allen Halliwell said. “He knows he’s part of something bigger than himself.”

“I finally got to do something I’ve always dreamed of since I was a little boy — make a touchdown,” Mike said.

Read the whole story here.

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One of the Best Sports Moments of the Decade

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013 - by Bryan Preston

Most Saturday mornings you can find me checking headlines on my laptop while English Premiere League soccer is up live on my TV. Moments like this one from Saturday’s matches are why soccer fans watch the games. They’re what the sport is all about.

Arsenal are north London’s biggest soccer team (Spurs fans, you know it’s true). The Gunners currently lead the league, and Saturday they were at home facing Norwich, who are currently near the bottom of the league. Arsenal  are playing lights out lately and expected the win, but no one expected the Gunners to score their first in quite the way that they did.

It happened in the 18th minute. With the match still scoreless but Arsenal dominating possession and forcing their will on Norwich, Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere picked up the ball in the Gunners’ end and started to charge forward. He passed left to defender Kieran Gibbs, who passed forward to midfielder Santi Cazorla.

Cazorla, just returning from injury for his first match in several weeks, was showing a few signs of rust early in the game. But not at this moment. He held up the ball while Wilshere continued his run forward toward the Norwich goal. What follows is telepathic team play.

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Cazorla’s move starts at the :05 mark of the video. He has the ball, and that’s Wilshere in red facing the Norwich #27 in yellow. Cazorla passes to Wilshere, who passes back to Cazorla, who one-touch passes to Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, standing side-facing the goal at the top of the Norwich penalty area. Giroud flicks back to Wilshere, who heel flicks back to Giroud as he continues to charge forward through the Norwich defense. Giroud turns around and one-touch flicks the ball forward into Wilshere’s path. All Wilshere has left to do at that point is slide the ball past the keeper into the net, 1-0. Those six pinpoint moves spanned about :03 on the clock. Play the video a few times and you’ll see 21-year-old Wilshere’s unbelievable heel flick as he charges at pace right through the defense. A lifetime of work on the training ground won’t leave most of us anywhere near capable of pulling that off.

The stunning goal silenced the stadium. Norwich’s defenders and goalkeeper could do nothing about it. Arsenal midfielder Mesut Özil, who scored two on the day and is regarded as one of the best playmakers in world soccer, said his teammates’ “Playstation” goal was “unbelievable.”

The Gunners weren’t finished. Arsenal went on to score three more, including this solo masterpiece by midfielder Aaron Ramsey that sealed the win.

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*****

Cross-posted from the PJ Tatler

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Ty Doohen, Another Victim of Single Motherhood: Fatherless and Beaten to Death

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013 - by Megan Fox
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2-year-old baby Ty Doohen, who was beaten to death

Sports media is in an uproar about the horrific murder of Ty Doohen, Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson’s two-year-old son. Unfortunately, they’ve got the angle all wrong. This is not a story about a father’s loss and brave return to the field. It is a story of a sick culture, of a man who reportedly didn’t even know he had fathered a son until three months ago and never looked on Ty’s face until the boy was in a hospital bed, dying.

It’s a story of the woman who birthed this child. Ann “Ashley” Doohen reportedly had the child tested for paternity and the results came as a surprise to her. She thought the child was her ex-boyfriend’s (not current boyfriend and alleged assailant Joseph Patterson). This makes three men Doohen was (allegedly) having sex within a relatively short time period. She was not married to any of them.

This is a story of a woman who left her baby in the care of a person who had a criminal record of child abuse that anyone with $30 and a computer could have uncovered. But most importantly, this is a story of a child with no father, with no hero and no advocate to protect and shield him from the evil around him.

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