Sports Sabbath

Sports Sabbath
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Thursday, December 2, 2010

We (Only) Know Drama

There was nothing more telling about tonight's Heat vs Cavaliers game than what happened before it even started. TNT, the station broadcasting LeBron's return to Cleveland, decided to air a rerun of "Bones" - a show that roughly 9 people have ever watched - instead of running a massive pregame extravaganza. This angered sports fans, who on most days, love to poke fun at ESPN's attempts to make even the most mundane of events into all-day telethons.

But that's the kind of fervor that surrounded this game. Everybody wanted something. Some wanted LeBron to fall flat on his face. Others wanted to see a historical showing from The King. And then there were those who wanted blood; to see Cleveland fans riot or throw beers onto the court.

One thing is clear: nobody tuned in to watch basketball.

It was a casual fan and sports writer nightmare; a Heat blowout, where LeBron neither destroyed the court nor failed to show. He did what LeBron does, although, at times, he was so dominant that you had to feel he was crushing Cavs defenders on purpose. Scoring 38 points in three quarters, he could have put up 50+ if he was so inclined*, but the LeBron we now know did what was expected: sit out the final quarter of a meaningless regular season game.

*A prominent, nationally syndicated sports radio host Tweeted that Michael Jordan would've gone for the 50+, alluding to the fact that James doesn't have it in him. I casually tweeted back that rooting for 50+ is rooting for entertainment, not basketball. He then sent me a direct message stating "I forgot more about sports during lunch than you've learned in your entire life". The lesson, as always: where you stand on LeBron is serious stuff, and that most people in the sports business are pricks.

This failed to satisfy a soul except for the hardcore NBA fan. The American public that drove up TNT's ratings Thursday night wanted something extraordinary, a mix between Kobe hanging 81 points on Toronto and Ron Artest jumping into the crowd and clocking a Pistons fan. They wanted entertainment that had little to do with sports. A reality show where either LeBron or Cleveland leaves the island alive. For things to remain the same on Friday morning would be a travesty.

Sorry, fair-weather NBA fans, nothing to see here. No drama, no violence, no answers. Just a December game where the home crowd had a little more juice than usual. Sorry you were strung along by the majority of the sports media, who led you to believe you were to be a Witness of something greater than you were actually going to see.

Now you know how it feels to be a Cavs fan, because this is likely the last NBA game you'll watch with interest before June. I'll give you one more look at LeBron to vent your frustrations. Then you have to get over it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Real Soccer

I am not a soccer guy. Sure, I get into the World Cup like everyone else, but I never follow the sport outside that particular event. In other words, I am all-American. And what has strained Major League Soccer from its inception is how to make soccer popular to Americans. The answer?

Make it less American.

The Kansas City Wizards have announced that they are changing their name to Sporting Kansas City. Just about everyone I know thinks this is lame. Not surprising. Our sports teams follow a simple formula: State or City + Team Name (preferably plural). But it's not like the KC club is breaking ground here. We have Real Salt Lake, D.C. United, Toronto FC, Chivas USA, etc.

Still, the name change hasn't gone over very well. Even Dead Spin came out against it, stating "the trend of naming teams in European and Latin American styles has to stop." I say this trend is exactly what the MLS needs, and to not stop there.

The problem with the MLS is that they tried making soccer an American sport. It isn't, and it will never be. What they need to do is promote the sport as an influx of European and Latin American athletics. Embrace the foreign aspect of it. With the mass migration of Latin Americans into America, what better way to reach out to that growing demographic than to give them a piece of their home?

My proposal? Create two conferences, one of "European" teams and one of "Latin" teams. I don't mean by segregating players, but by segregating atmospheres. The Euro league would consist of teams with the names of "United" and "FC" attached, with the Latin league including "Real" and "Sporting" names.

And let's keep running with this. Euro stadiums would blare English and German fight songs, only serve Warsteiners and Heinekens, etc. Latin stadiums would do the same with their respective heritage. It would add a little fun to the game. Everyone can be a part of the global game for one afternoon. Audience participation is the key.

I mean, let's face it; the game ain't attracting a whole lot of people in this country. So why not make it a cultural event? Imagine an NFL game mixed with Disney World and a touch of Beer Fest, if you will. If successful, the fan bases could even get a little Euro vs Latin hate going on. Why wouldn't this work?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Art of Diversion

The end of Sunday's Chiefs/Broncos massacre left a lot of different angles for Kansas City sports media to dissect. The defense put the Chiefs in a hole that was nearly impossible to dig out of. Matt Cassel was horrible, yet was able to put up over 400 yards, and in essence, keep fan favorite Brodie Croyle off the field. The coaching staff got run over. There were endless possibilities for writers and radio hosts to tackle.

But then, at the very end, Todd Haley snuffed Josh McDaniels for all the world to see. And now all of the city has to hear about it.

There was finger-pointing, yelling and more than likely some harsh words. It was a perfect television snapshot. Drama, suspense. It's the kind of story the media loves to run with. The game all of a sudden didn't matter. This was Haley vs McDaniels. It will get higher ratings than Pacquiao vs Margarito.

Only, I've seen this before. I remember the 17th of September. 2006. The Belichick-Mangini shake that shook the world. But it never really shook anything. The Hoodie is still the mastermind of the Patriots. Mangini is now heading the impressive Cleveland Browns. The handshake that wasn't never meant a thing. It was as meaningless as a preseason game or a Boise State regular season game.

Make no mistake, the Kansas City and Denver media will latch onto this like their own little version of Brangelina. You will hear words like "classless" and "unsportsmanlike". Those who step on their soap box to proclaim Todd Haley is a jerk will also praise him if he wins the AFC West. This whole episode will be long forgotten, as was Belichick and Mangini's.

I, for one, don't care about handshakes or finger-pointing or any of that. I care about football. Unfortunately, a squabble between two coaches will take away from any insight sports media members, with all their access and contacts, could possibly give us. It is a lazy way out. Much easier to discuss photographed bitchery than break down a game.

Sadly, this will divert eager Chiefs fans from the analysis they desire. After all, analysis is a loser's game; every wrong prediction will be remembered, every right call blown off. This is a way for media to consume a topic that is purely sensational.

Shame on anyone who tries to make this a story. I want sports, not a soap opera.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Antiweis Superstar: How Todd Haley is becoming the new Marilyn Manson

Note: this article is lengthy and requires the reader to learn a little bit about a non-sports subject to get the overall point. If you'd like to skip straight to the sports stuff, just scroll down past the dotted lines and you'll see it. But I highly suggest you read the entire thing.

I have been a Chiefs fan since the day I was born. Every year, I follow the team like a hawk, spending so much time dissecting every little aspect of the game that I question my sanity. But this year is different. The Todd Haley Era is confusing me. It wasn't until I pulled myself away from football and delved into some of my other interests that I encountered a possible explanation.

That other interest was Marilyn Manson.

I am a huge Manson fan. Put aside for a second what you think you know about the man or the band. I'm sure images of Satanism and kids in makeup come to mind, but understand that Marilyn Manson - or Brian Warner, as his mother named him - is what I consider a musical genius.

The Reflecting God

His finest album, Antichrist Superstar, is a misunderstood masterpiece. I have always felt that ACS was a concept album chronicling the life of a weak, timid person who becomes a famous rock star who believes in too much of his power. This also happens to be the exact same concept of Pink Floyd's The Wall. That, by itself, is probably more thought than most people put into Manson's records. But then I came across an article that took it further.*

*For in-depth look into Antichrist Superstar, read this essay by Paula O'Keefe.

On Manson's official message board, someone had posted an essay by Jeff Cohn, which is a kind of conspiracy theory behind the singer's motives.

In short, (but I'd ask you to read the whole thing), Cohn suggests that the band Marilyn Manson has been, well, made up. The claim is, that from its inception, that every album, song and lyric Manson has written has been just a clue pointing to some greater point.

Marilyn has woven a complicated web of clues to catch him...we must all be forensic psychologist’s now. This is our “Seven” our “Silence of the Lambs” (One of Marilyn’s all time fav. movies) . We as fans must all continue to question everything and think deeper than the obvious surface level.

At first glance, this seems nearly impossible. It reminds me of claims that Pink Floyd's Dark Side Of The Moon was written to coincide with The Wizard Of Oz.* To achieve something so great - in this case, starting a band and writing songs to become one puzzle piece at a time that would take the highest amount of fame to work - just sounds crazy to imagine. But perhaps many artists have tried this very thing, but only Manson has been able to reach the highest point of popularity necessary to make it work. Maybe, instead being the only one to try this and it working at first strike, he is just one out of a thousand, and was the only one to be successful.

*Don't think I haven't noticed the parallels between Manson and Floyd. The same themes seem to occur in both bands, which may point to Cohn being closer to the truth than one might be comfortable with.

Mister Superstar

The idea that an art form, or an entire life, might be one that was preconceived and then actually achieved isn't an idea that a person can just accept. This makes the listener accept two things. One, that somebody can actually morph the perceptions of others to what that artist wants you to think is real, and two, that you are one of those people.

This takes a level of belief in one's self and belief that others will allow you to go on long enough to make the dream happen that is unrealistic to most. When it comes to Manson, he needed to make non-music that posed as actual rock and roll to start his puzzle, if Cohn's theory is correct. But that also had to be good enough to get him to where he needed to be, which is rock stardom. It's extremely hard to make good music, but to make good music that actually isn't music at all? Manson would have to be in the top 1% of musical minds to achieve this.

Then he would need to catch all the breaks (grab an AR man's attention, get airplay, etc.), or else this is just crap music that nobody ever hears. Again, it is entirely possible that Manson is just one out of many who has tried this, but only he has achieved it. But the master planning involved is mind-blowing. It takes a great leap of faith to acknowledge.

But it is fun to imagine that somebody out there had what it takes to create this. It's what has always drawn me to Marilyn Manson's music. So what does this have to do with sports, and specifically, the Chiefs? Please allow me to explain.


The Beautiful People

All was going right in Kansas City. The Chiefs were winning. The running game was on fire, the defense was playing well, special teams was flourishing. In the back of everybody's mind was the thought, "Why isn't Jamaal Charles getting the ball?" But we suppressed that thought. After all, you don't change a winning formula.

Even with losses to the Colts and Texans, and a near disaster to the Bills, the 5-2 Chiefs couldn't be questioned. This was a team that was expected to do nothing and be nothing, and yet here they were, controlling their division and their own destiny.

But then Sunday happened. The Raiders happened. A 15 penalty, 3 turnover debacle that most NFL teams would've put away at halftime. The Chiefs, however couldn't put it away. They gave the ball to their average-at-best quarterback rather than their 5.3 yards-per-carry superstar. It didn't make any sense.

So the question is: why? Why try to feature your limited quarterback and not the one guy who has proved to be the best player on the team?

Perhaps Todd Haley is putting together the pieces of a puzzle that we don't quite yet understand.

Man That You Fear

The theory, as far as I know, was first proposed by sports radio host Nick Wright here in Kansas City; that Haley and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are consciously trying to convince people that quarterback Matt Cassel is better than everybody thinks he his. The idea is that Haley and Weis are purposely "highlighting" Cassel during regular season games. This basically means that the coaching staff is going away from the best game plan possible. The reasons for this can be only one of two things:

1. Haley and Weis are so stubborn, that they rather die with swordplay rather than bust out their guns.

2. They are giving Cassel meaningful reps to help build his talent and confidence, even if that means losing meaningful games.

Now think: there are only 32 human beings on the entire planet who are NFL head coaches. Would one of them risk losing his job just out of pure pride and stubbornness? Insane as it sounds, it actually makes more
sense that one of them has devised such a complex plan that he truly believes in - a plan that includes wasting a possible playoff season to build towards a grander goal.

It's the same creation of illusion that, theoretically, Manson has built. The idea here is that the team is not ready for Super Bowl contention just yet, so it's better to let Cassel have real-game experience of shouldering the load, while at the same time limiting Jamaal Charles' touches to save him from injury. The crazy thing about it is that in these times coaches are expendable and you must have total faith that this plan will work, and work quickly.

So the question becomes. do you have the patience and faith that Haley, Weis and general manager Scott Pioli can pull this thing off?

Irresponsible Hate Anthem

Of course, there is the argument that everyone on Twitter has been sending my way: it is what it is. Thomas Jones is just more dependable, audibles are being called for passes because of defensive looks, etc. And that is entirely possible. But Charles has been limited the entire season, and when he does get the ball, he explodes. The only way that in-game strategy could be at fault would be that if Haley and Weis knew the exact times when the defense wasn't expecting Charles, which is completely false. There is obviously a premeditated strategy here, right?

That kind of out-of-the-box thinking is rare and dangerous in today's NFL. It also points to a thousand-point-plan that can't be trusted with today's media scrutiny. To take it back to Manson, would his low quality "Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids", and it's lack of popularity, give him the chance he needed in today's iTunes-heavy, single-oriented music landscape?

Of course not. But this is the same kind of deceit and faith that Haley and Company seem to be operating on. But you have to believe that these kind of men exist; men that are so self-confident that they dare to change the way the game is played solely because they have a vision.

I'm willing to accept that Marilyn Manson was this kind of person, and so too is Todd Haley. I can let go of what I think I know about the entertainers that are in front of me. After all, isn't the belief that great, visionary men are amongst us that keeps life interesting?

If this is just imaginary, and Haley really is just stubborn, then so be it. But I will now watch the Chiefs as I listen to Manson's music; an experience that I can draw my own interpretations to, letting me better understand the world I'm living in. After all, that is basically the point of entertainment, and sports is entertainment.

The Chiefs are my new Marilyn Manson, And just like the singer, I'm sure everybody will hate me and ridicule me for being a fan. So be it.

Rock on, Todd Haley.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Illusion of Caring

Every Christmas, there is a unique sociology experiment that I think everybody should partake in. Go to a Wal-Mart, stand outside, and watch the creative ways in which people try to ignore the Salvation Army workers. Some will pull out their cell phones, acting like they are checking a message. Some will spark up a conversation with whoever is accompanying them. We all have our strategies.

Yet, if confronted individually, every one of them would say that they cared about charities, and the Salvation Army specifically. And in their heart of hearts, they would truly believe that. Even if shown a video of them blowing off a SA volunteer, most people would make up some kind of excuse, and go on believing they are a caring person.

This is pretty much the behavior of the average NFL fan.

Joe Sports Fan would lead you to believe that he cares about football players. He'll tell you that he's against helmet-to-helmet contact and "illegal hits". He'll tell you that the players need more protection. And in his heart of hearts, he believes this. But Joe Sports Fan has been blowing off the brutality of the NFL for years.

Every football fan knows, and had always known, that the game ruins its players. We've heard story after story about Player X being diagnosed with dementia at age 45, or how the every day blows an offensive linemen endures takes twenty years off his life. This is not news. Anyone who watched just one football game in their life could understand the severity of the violence taking place.

Yet, we all watched. And we paid. And we cheered. While news leaked out about how the NFL basically discards its former players and their health, we screamed about how something should be done, and then continued to tune in to watch current players getting their brains mashed in. When a player went down with his third concussion in six weeks, knowing that those injuries will haunt him for the rest of his life, we responded with concern and teary eyes - that is, until the medical staff scraped him off the field and the next play began.

Fact is, football fans rank entertainment over the well-being of the players. 99% of fans kept paying the NFL and supporting the game even as guys got bigger, stronger and faster. The violence was never bloody enough for us to put down our foam fingers or sell off our fantasy teams.

But now Roger Goodell and the NFL say that the game needs to be safer; that it's worth taking away some of the most exciting plays of the game to help the players. Just about everybody is in agreement with this. They care about safety too, they say. They care about the players.

Because if they really did care, what they are admitting is that their own trivial entertainment is more important then something they feel deeply and emotionally about. And this might be true for some. Some people might actually wince and get a sick feeling in their stomach when there's a brutal hit. At best, these people just have extremely screwed up priorities. The kind that put their car or boat ahead of their own children, which we usually agree is a type of horrible human being.

I feel that most fans fall into a different group. Most people never think about injuries or overall health of athletes until it is presented to them. They are the Salvation Army ignorers. They watch with tunnel-vision; never able to see past what is on their screen or what they are already looking for. Football is always about the game, nothing more. Injuries are a part of that game.

To sit there watching and holding the knowledge that what it is you are seeing will eventually end the lives of the athletes, is in and of itself an unmoral, primitive thing. To enjoy something that is so violent is nearly evil. And to say afterwards that you care about the lives being ruined on the field is wholly dishonest, and in a way more unmoral and evil than admitting that you are unmoved at all.

If video of me at Wal-Mart ever surfaces, you'll see this: someone who just walks past the volunteer like he doesn't exist. If presented with a documentary or still photos of those in need, the human emotion in me would probably break down and give a little something. But that isn't the real me. That is a version of me reacting to guilt.

I don't feel guilty about liking big hits, because I don't pretend to care about those who suffer the blows. And for three hours (or six, or nine) on Sundays, I walk right pass the sad reality to enjoy some cheap entertainment. I'm okay with this, because I never concern myself with issues like morality, or more accurately, what definition of morality society has designed for me.

But you do. So you care. At least, you care when someone is watching. I say let us that truly enjoy the game for what it is have the game that we grew up watching. If you want safety, you need to move on to a safer form of entertainment. Don't let your guilt drag the rest of us down with you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

NCAA, Inc.

"Reality doesn't bite, rather our perception of reality bites" - Anthony J. D'Angelo

I've never been comfortable when people talk of concussions in the NFL. I'm alright when they wheel out ex-players or show a crime scene when some athlete with brain damage murders his entire family. But I squirm when some fan or writer stands on his soapbox and declares how the violence of football must stop.

After all, we knew that football is violent and destroys the bodies and minds of its players. But we set that reality aside because, well, it's not something we like to think about, just like we don't think of African miners whenever we buy a diamond at Zales. We lie to ourselves so we can enjoy our simple pleasures.

I am always conscious of these things. When I see a big hit, part of the satisfaction is knowing the guy might be carted off. This might make me sick and depraved to most, but it also makes me honest. Football players are our gladiators, and all I want is blood.

So earlier this week when Sports Illustrated came out with an article revealing the secrets of sports agents, it didn't surprise me when everybody in the sports world acted shocked. Former agent Josh Luchs spilled the beans about agents routinely paying NCAA athletes. As if that's something we all didn't figure was happening anyways.

We just didn't talk about it, because well, it got in the way of us enjoying our perceived reality of collegiate sports. Football can't mean as much is it's rigged and dirty. The dirt is what killed boxing in this country.

But now it's out in the open, so we put up a front of ignorance. We all know this is the way the world works. Those with the money wheel and deal behind the scenes to get what they want. It's politics. It's business. It's the reason why the BCS still exists even though nobody likes it.

The innocence and charm of amateur sports is gone. ESPN shows high school football and little league baseball and break them down like they're pro athletes. Sports at all levels are big business. We either accept this as fact and move on or keep pretending it's not happening and meet boxing's fate.

I know this is the last thing we want to face. The fear of violence is hurting the NFL right now, but there is no turning back. The cat is out of the bag. Personally, I care about the sport and the players can be getting under the table deals or Nike endorsements, doesn't really matter. But you do, or at least you say you do. Just pick one, and stop acting like a child who just learned that Santa isn't real.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Review: One Night in Vegas

I've been constantly impressed by ESPN's "30 for 30" documentary series, even if it was conceived by someone who I think is flailing artistically.* But it has been mostly entertaining and thought-provoking. When I heard there was going to be an episode about the night Tupac was shot, and the parallels between the rapper and Mike Tyson, my DVR couldn't be set fast enough.

*Two things here. First, Bill Simmons has been an idol of mine and is the reason I got into sports writing, along with Hunter S. Thompson. I still read him and enjoy his columns. But my second thought is that he has given up and been generally lazy since becoming semi-famous. He has replaced columns with podcasts, and lost a ton of respect from me since I learned that he blocks anyone on Twitter that says anything remotely bad about him. I'm not bitter, I just disagree with the thought process there. The only other person I know that does this is Jason Whitlock. I fear for Simmons' career.

I was very excited for "One Night In Vegas". Gauging from the other docs, I was ready for some inside info and details I never knew about concerning Tupac's death.

None of that was there.

Basically, "One Night In Vegas" was nothing more than stylistic masturbation, trying hard as hell to force the white audience to accept as many urban stereotypes as possible. Testimonials from leaders in the black community such as Maya Angelou and Michael Eric Dyson served little purpose other than to shout "THIS IS ABOUT BLACK PEOPLE". Same was the reasoning for interrupting the story with less-than-impressive "poets", who evoked images of auction blocks during Def Poetry-esque rants that brought nothing to the narrative at all.

I know a lot of these "30 for 30" episodes are about posturing and embellishment (such as last week's "Little Big Men", who tried to persuade us that Little League baseball saved America in the 80s), but damn. Anyone who has ever been remotely interested in Tupac* knows all of the facts presented here. What was the point?

*As someone who doesn't listen to a lot of rap, Tupac has always been my favorite artist. I completely buy into the fact that he was a misguided and misunderstood philosopher of sorts. I also believe he was an extremely important figure in black culture at the time. But not everything written or filmed about him is as deep as the man himself.

There is no point, as I can see. The film spent most of its allotted hour explaining to us who Tupac and Tyson were (again, proving that this was directed towards a white audience). The night of importance was merely a fact getting in the way of the director's intention: shoving Tupac and Tyson's culture in the face of ESPN viewers.

This was a disservice. I would love to know more about what happened that night, more about the feuds between Death Row Records and gangs, and how it all came crashing down on that fateful night. But this film wasn't about that. This film wasn't about anything.