Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Welcome to Super Bowl Week – Richard Sherman

January 28, 2014

“I don’t hate it enough not to love it.” So said a wag about professional football earlier in the 2013-2014 National Football League (NFL) season. The remark followed a barrage of stories about concussions and the news broke of murder charges against one time New England Patriots’ tight end Aaron Hernandez. The statement well expresses the love/hate relationship the thinking NFL fan (such as this writer) has with the sport. It features many of the world’s greatest athletes in a brilliantly marketed display of imponderable skill and sometimes frightening violence. On the field and off its young stars often behave as rich, absurdly privileged athletes who put their health at stake for their livelihood are wont to do. It’s not always pretty.

The incidence of concussions and the severity of other injuries underscores a fundamental truth about the NFL: if you play, you will get hurt.  Those of us who watch the NFL regularly live with an uneasy contradiction. We enjoy a brutal game which can inflict permanent physical and mental damage on its participants.

The NFL is far and away America’s most popular professional sport. Major League Baseball still lays claim to the moniker of being “America’s pastime,” but audiences for the NFL swamp that of both Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA). In the United States, the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) are sideshows in comparison.

On the eve of Super Bowl week, one name has cut through all the noise and chatter about the NFL for football fan and non-football fan alike: Richard Sherman.

A week ago, Sherman made an extraordinarily athletic and exquisitely timed deflection to break up what would have been a last gasp, game-winning pass from the San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick to his receiver Michael Crabtree. Watching that play in slow motion is like watching the athlete as Nureyev. With the game on the line, Sherman elevated himself far off the ground while running at full speed and artfully raised one hand to deflect the ball away from Crabtree and into the hands of Sherman’s teammate for a game winning interception. Sherman made a breathtakingly superb play. But the real drama was yet to come. Sherman, to use the vernacular, proceeded to go off on prime time TV. First he made a choke sign with his hands around his neck while glowering at Kaepernick the San Francisco star who had just been victimized – not by his own bad play, but by a superior one from Sherman. Sherman then visibly taunted a disconsolate Crabtree slapping him on the bum and screaming into the ear hole of his helmet. In return, Sherman received a poke in the face-mask from Crabtree. Sherman was penalized for his taunt, but with 22 seconds remaining on the clock, all his Seattle Seahawks needed to do was run out the clock to victory and a berth in the Super Bowl.

Things took a bizarre turn when the game ended. FOX television had angled to interview Sherman live on the field before the players returned to their dressing rooms. The play-by-play announcers introduced broadcaster Erin Andrews standing by in a mêlée of players, team officials and camera people with a dreadlocked, helmetless Sherman for his instant post-game comments. Instead of humbly thanking the lord and his teammates in the well rehearsed and terminally boring patter practised by many professional athletes, Sherman bellowed that he was the best defender in the NFL, that the 49ers were stupid to challenge him and that Crabtree was a chump who got what he deserved. A visibly shaken Ms. Andrews stepped back from the voluble Mr. Sherman and gave the spotlight back to the lads upstairs. It was extraordinary unscripted television. For what it’s worth, Sherman is African American. Ms. Andrews is Caucasian and considerably smaller. In their brief interview, Sherman appeared almost deranged, extremely angry, arrogant and, frankly, more than a little frightening. His appearance immediately sparked a firestorm in the Twittersphere and about 72 hours of blanket coverage in sports and news coverage across the United States, Canada and beyond.

Hours later Sherman penned “For Those Who Think I’m A Thug or Worse…” an article for si.com, the hugely popular Sports Illustrated website. Sherman has been an occasional si.com contributor throughout the season. A calm, reflective Sherman explained his actions as part of the heat of the game, “To those who would call me a thug or worse because I show passion on a football field—don’t judge a person’s character by what they do between the lines. Judge a man by what he does off the field, what he does for his community, what he does for his family.” The next day, Sherman held court in a press conference. He was rational, articulate and basically non-contrite. In contrast to his outburst with the unfortunate Andrews, Sherman exhibited some warmth and considerable intelligence. In sum, this is one complex and often extremely media savvy dude. I suspect he will have the charm offensive in full gear on media day prior to the Super Bowl.

I say thanks to Richard Sherman. He gave us a pull-back-the-curtains-on-the-Wizard glimpse into the NFL. It’s a tough game played by very tough men. However distasteful his triumphal, adrenaline stoked, macho outburst to Andrews was, it’s refreshing that he did not merely fall on his sword afterward in a pathetic, well-rehearsed apology. Sherman said in effect, ‘it’s all part of the game, man – play on!’ By accounts of those who work with him, including Peter King, Sherman’s editor at si.com and a justifiably respected dean of football writers, Sherman actually is an exceptionally bright young man who happens to be a great football player.

Off the field, management of NFL teams, the players themselves and television networks generally manage to present an image of fine young men that’s often at odds with the realities of a brutal, extravagantly financed game. Not all its athletes are stellar citizens. Imagine that. Whatever Sherman’s crimes are, surely they pale in comparison to other events surrounding the NFL this season. The aforementioned Hernandez stands accused of murder. Days prior to the Seahawks’ victory over the 49ers, former star defensive back and broadcaster Darren Sharper was arrested in Los Angeles on suspicion of rape. Reports state that New Orleans police are also investigating Sharper for sexual assault.

Oliver Stone’s feature film Any Given Sunday as well as the feature and series Friday Night Lights from producer/director Peter Berg illuminate the realities of football as an essential aspect of deep America from dusty high school fields in Texas to the professional gridiron. In his recent outburst Richard Sherman gave us a strong dose of the raw reality behind the usual NFL marketing and spin.

– This article was originally published by The Journal of Wild Culture. –

http://www.wildculture.com/article/richard-sherman-being-himself/1357

 

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An Open Letter to Loaf Fans

April 6, 2012

Item:  Toronto Maple Loafs fail to make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 7th consecutive year.

Memo to Loaf fans in the so-called ‘Loaf Nation’: it is SERIOUSLY time to get a life. Believe this: the team will not win a Stanley Cup in your lifetimes; heck, it might not even make the playoffs. A proposed cure – anytime you want to root for the Loafs think of 300 pound+ Toronto Mayor Rob Ford naked. Then move on.

PS If you are a self confessed member of Loaf Nation and you voted for Ford, there is probably no hope for your recovery.

The Pulitzer Goes To…

December 6, 2011

If you are interested in hockey, player safety and a lamentable silence in most Canadian journalism, rush to read The New York Times brilliant and disturbing series, “Punched Out: The Life and Death of a Hockey Enforcer”, about Derek Boogaard.

Writer John Branch and a team of  ‘New Media’ story tellers have spun a profound tale about the ill-fated, late NHL ‘enforcer’ Boogaard. Many Canadian sports journalists, and seemingly all broadcasting entities in the country, led lamentably by the  juvenile Hockey Night broadcasts on the publicly owned Canadian Broadcasting Corporation,  condone fighting in the NHL.  It’s past time to read a deep account of how one hockey player’s life was ruined by the absurdist, lethal culture of fighting in hockey.

Talkin’ Loafs and ‘Head Shots’

February 23, 2011

Hey! It’s been TOO long since we gazed at the Toronto Maple Loafs and their addled fans.

As I write, the Loafs hold a one goal lead over the Islanders, one of four teams in the thirty team NHL with a worse record than Toronto’s. Plan the Stanley Cup parade, girls ‘n’ boys!!!

There must be something in the water in these parts.  Loaf fans have convinced themselves that their team is making a late season playoff run.  Somehow the message escaped resident genius Brian Burke who traded away two starting defense men for prospects in the past few weeks.

From the ridiculous to good old hockey psychosis NHL style: everyone’s talkin’ ‘head shots’ and Sid the Kid’s concussion. Sports ‘journalists’ are wearing out their Blackberry digits wonderin’ jes wat the league is gonna do.  Bottom line, oh dear humans: as long as the NHL and its broadcasting partners (almost exclusively in Canada – led in the first instance on Saturday nights, by what passes for a public broadcaster) promote fist fighting as part of the game, all talk about concussions and better protecting players is sheer hypocrisy and nonsense.

P.S. 25.02.11 Son-of-a-moose!  The Loafs beat les Canadiens last night looking something like a legitimate team.  Hmmmm… 4 points out of the playoffs.  Are they preparing ‘the Leaf Nation’ for an extremely painful season ending, or will they prove me wrong, wrong, wrong? Stay tuned.

Jays’ Update

January 23, 2011

Goodbye Vernon Wells. Now that’s a major league baseball trade!

It’s a daring strike by Alex Anthopoulos.  Mike Napoli is a veteran catcher who offers protection for the emerging, promising, yet completely unproven, J.P. Arencibia.  Napoli can also play first base – which might be necessary if Adam Lind can’t adjust.

Principally, the move is a coup because the Jays are out from under Wells’ gargantuan contract.

If Anthopoulos is savvy, Jose Bautista will become the face of the Toronto franchise. Unloading Wells’ albatross of a deal should open space to sign Bautista, a player who seems capable of leadership off and on the field, to a medium term contract. I’m never expecting another 54 home-run season from Bautista, but he’ll provide steady power and stellar defense whether he’s in the outfield or third base.

Late last year, I wrote about the “hollowing out” of the Blue Jays.  Allow me to re-assess in light of recent developments.  The trading of Wells, a fine player and perhaps a likable chap, but a 32 year-old on a superstar’s contract without superstar performance, is a significant step forward. Further, the addition of Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch means that the bullpen is reconstructed.

Boston is set to run away with the American League East. However, the Yankees are weaker; and so are the Tampa Rays.

Here’s hoping that Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston don’t resume their, ‘we’re in a development year’, blather in the few weeks prior to spring training. The Jays are maybe, just maybe, set to make a run for a playoff position this year.

Woe the Toronto Sports Fan

December 24, 2010

Bah! Hum-bug!

How numb and uninformed are Toronto sports fans?

Let’s see:

Brian Burke spends millions to build a losing NHL team without centres. Waffle chuckers aside, the ACC still sells out and the pathetic ‘Leaf Nation’ remains loyal with its $$$$ – which is all that counts with MLSE.

The Raptors, another MLSE product, cannot and will not play defense. This does not require great talent. It takes will – which is lacking at an NBA outpost where even quality players excel only while plotting their moves back to a real basketball city.

Finally, let’s look at the Blue Jays.  Alex Anthopoulos gets a free ride from fans, perhaps because he’s Canadian,  young and has a cute family. This, while he has spent the off-season dismantling a winning, entertaining team.  Anthopoulos traded viable Major League pitcher Shaun Marcum for a AA minor league player (also a Canadian).

When will Toronto sports media cotton to the fact that dear Alex’ real agenda has been to assist owner Rogers in cutting costs?  As I wrote earlier, Jays’ fans, contemplate 75 wins this year on the upside.

Hollowing Out The Blue Jays

December 12, 2010

From our sports desk: a wintery baseball flash report:

The Toronto sports media is oddly quiet about the evisceration  of a team that won 85 games last year in the formidable American League East. As I write this post, the dismantled Toronto Blue Jays squad that will arrive in spring training in just over two months time would be fortunate to win 75 once the regular season begins in April.

Let’s review: Pitcher Shaun Marcum traded for Brett Lawrie, a Double AA player; catcher John Buck signs as a free agent with the Florida Marlins, a team that no one watches; lefty relief pitcher Scott Downs takes his talents to Malibu; closer Kevin Gregg cut loose to free agency… The Blue Jays also added a player in the speedy outfielder Rajai Davis, but he is a minor addition in comparison to the flood of losses of established major league players.

Blue Jays management mollifies by talking about ‘talent accumulation’ and creating a mild buzz about the aforementioned Double AA player, Lawrie , because he’s a Canadian. It’s a public relations mirage.

At the moment, the Jays are a team without an experienced every day catcher, an experienced first baseman or a proven closer.  GM Alex Anthopoulos is the happy face on a movement to limit player costs while waxing smilingly about a brighter future ahead.

Yes folks, your 2011 Toronto Blue Jays: younger, cheaper and worse.

Dome Ball

January 22, 2010

This Sunday the National Football League will feature two championship games played indoors for the first time in its history.  Yecccchhhhh!

In Indianapolis, the Colts will host the New York Jets; a few hours later the Saints of New Orleans will welcome the Minnesota Vikings. Both stadiums are antiseptic, over sized monstrosities better suited for truck rallies than football.

The spectacle of playing outdoors on actual grass (or ‘frozen tundra’), no matter what the weather has been sacrificed to a high-speed, pass dominated arena ball that, to my eye, looks false. In addition, as a filmmaker, I find the lighting of indoors football on television very unattractive. I know I am no doubt out of step with the times – in the era of video games, the NFL’s new indoor look might not dismay many fans. However, I wonder if the NFL does not risk diluting its product by limiting the range of tactical options that dealing with unpredictable nature demands.

There was a moment in the only good playoff game last week (played outdoors in San Diego) where you could see the wind move a shock of a hair on the head of a concerned Chargers’ coach Norv Turner.  Having just watched parts of a dreadful game from the Garbage Bag Dome of Minneapolis, it took me a moment to even realize it was the wind!  Perhaps the elements might have contributed to San Diego’s kicker missing three field goals that sealed his team’s fate at the hands of the surprising Jets.

btw The Colts will decisively terminate the Jets’ dreams and rattle the amazing rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. And dog willing, the Saints will end the season of the anti-Packer Favre.

The (bent) Hockey News

January 9, 2010

No Vincent? It says here that Team Canada will rue the exclusion of Vincent Lecavalier from its Olympic squad. Five years ago, the still young Lecavalier was clearly the best player on the ice when his Tampa Bay team beat Calgary for the Stanley Cup in a very tough series. He may be having an off year in the pathetic, fight polluted NHL, but my bet is that he’d still rock in international competition. If Steve Yzerman really believes that Patrice Bergeron is a better player, Canada’s hopes for the Olympics may be still-born. Oh, and if you think Quebec is under represented on the basis of merit on this Olympic team, you won’t get an argument from me.

Loaf Nation update: The team still bites. ‘Nuff said. But how weird is it that Toronto ‘sports journalists’ are barely noticing that the NBA Raptors are steadily becoming a competent basketball team? Oceans of ink and otherwise sensible people’s airtime is still wasted on the Loafs. In fact, the Loafs seem more popular the worse they get. Go figure. Toronto as North America’s official Loser-ville, anyone?

Finally, I am so glad I don’t have to hear another word about “our” junior team for about eleven and a half months. The pom-pom waving in The Globe And Mail and on TSN really became unbearable.

The Vindication of Thompson & McCarthy

December 28, 2009

So I was wrong. Again.

Slightly less than two months ago (on this very site), I wrote off my beloved Green Bay Packers after an inexplicable loss to the execrable Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since then, the Pack has been quite arguably the best team in the National Football League posting six victories against one last-play-of-the-game loss to last year’s World Champions. Yesterday, with a game remaining on the regular schedule, Green Bay clinched a playoff berth.

Many commentators (including this one) had argued that Green Bay VP Ted Thompson and Coach Mike McCarthy were mistaken in trading Brett Favre last year. In early November, with Favre leading the Minnesota Vikings to the NFC North lead and the Packers languishing in mediocrity, it appeared that 2008’s gamble on young quarterback Aaron Rodgers had backfired. Now…not so much. Yesterday, in addition to clinching a playoff spot, young Mr. Rodgers became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 4,000 yards in each of his first two seasons as a starter. The kid is a legitimate superstar.

Meanwhile Brett Favre was last seen arguing with his coach on the sidelines and the Vikings have lost two of their last three games. Stay tuned. Green Bay fans could be in for a very special post-season.