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Archive for the ‘Other sports’ Category

The Summer Olympics are almost upon us, which means Olympic fever the world over. Soon, people will be glued to their TV sets to watch feats of human athleticism. I’ll admit that I enjoy watching many of the events, particularly track and field, gymnastics, swimming, and judo.

Unfortunately, the Olympics represent much that is wrong with the modern sports and entertainment apparatus, and a troubling blend of nationalist jingoism, shortened attention span, and corporate exploitation. Rather than a celebration of human achievement, they are increasingly a competition of sponsors, heavily subsidized national training programs, and unpaid labor.

Why do the Olympics suck so much?

  1. The athletes get hosed: Today, the Olympics no longer cares about only admitting amateur, non-professional athletes, which is fine, I guess. Unlike professional meets, the Olympic-organized events do not offer a purse for winners (some countries, like the U.S. do), which means that unless you’re Michael Phelps, you’re not getting steady income. Meanwhile, corporate sponsors for the Olympics (not to mention the highly corrupt IOC… which is such a foregone conclusion that it doesn’t even warrant its own bullet point) make tons of money off of the Olympics ($4B for the 2001-04 quadrennium), along with the various ancillary businesses that surround the Olympics. The only people not making money on the billions in revenue are the people competing. “OK,” you say, “but isn’t it great that the athletes are motivated by more than money?” I do, indeed! But that is all the more reason to making it easier to do what they love, rather than forcing them to beg for sponsorships to continue competing for our benefit.
  2. No one cares about these sports outside of the Olympics: Outside of, say, basketball, tennis, and maybe boxing, no one cares about these sports. They are amazing feats of stretching human achievement to the limit, but we pretend to enjoy them once every four years anyways. And why? Because they are “our” team, or because we like the way they look, or because they have a great narrative. But once the lights dim, our attention flits elsewhere. It’s a great international corporate lovefest, but it’s all a short-term fling, one that vanishes as quickly as it appeared.
  3. It professes apolitical ideals, yet encourages jingoism: Yeah, so I’m a big party pooper. Yelling “USA!” at the screen is half the fun! But I’m bothered by the fact that politics is carefully managed at the Olympics in a way that encourages only a certain kind of nationalism. These days we just gleefully cheer for our colors–the ones we had no part in supporting in a game we don’t care that much about. The narrative of triumphalism in athletics as triumphalism in foreign policy leads to all sorts of unfortunate ties between athletes and the countries they represent, as if someone’s most important identity were the flag over their head rather than their personal achievements. Meanwhile, when the “wrong” type of politics makes an appearance at the Olympics, there is always hell to pay. It’s a white-washed version of the world that not only ignores, but denigrates those who dare to speak out. Making an statement of protest = bad; kow-towing to nation-states and stereotypes = good.

Watch this (somewhat melodramatic) documentary on the 1968 Olympics’ black power salute to get an idea:

And if you think this kind of thing is over, Peter Norman, the silver medalist Australian who shared the podium with John Carlos and Tommie Smith, was not even invited to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Last year, these clowns still won a silver medal.

In short, the Olympics exploit athletes, have only fleeting connection to its “fans,” and obsessively censor any sign of political unrest or turmoil. No wonder totalitarians everywhere have always loved them.

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As I watched the Miami Heat lose last night to go down into a 3-2 hole, I was struck by something that happened as Lebron James walked off the court. Is this kid a naive Heat fan? Or an trolling Celtics fan? Either way, it’s awesome.

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With each month, it seems the answer shifts closer and closer to “no.”

Today the legendary linebacker Junior Seau died of a gunshot wound to the chest. It is presently being treated as a possible suicide. It is eerily similar to the death of Dave Duerson, who played safety during the 80s and 90s. Duerson shot himself in the chest, and indicated before his death that he wanted his brain to be used in research. Subsequently, researchers found evidence of brain damage.

The type of damage observed in Duerson, and in 14 out of 15 NFL players tested by this research group, is called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE can come about not just because of multiple concussions, but due to repeated, sub-concussive head trauma – exactly the type that NFL players are subjected to routinely.

It’s also worth noting that today a New Orleans Saints player was banned for the 2012-2013 season for his part in a scandal where Saints defensive players were paid “bounties” for delivering maximally violent hits that knocked opposing players – particularly quarterbacks – out of the game.

I like watching football. But by doing so, I worry that I am contributing to a system that results in the neurodegeneration of a large group of athletes who are essentially being used and chewed out by a morally indefensible system. I am not yet at the point where I refuse to watch football on principle. But maybe I should be.

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Carmelo Anthony says he still wants the last shot, but insists that he is not selfish:

“Of course I want to take the last shot, let’s be quite frank: I’ve been doing for nine years already, and I’ve made a ton of them,” he said.

OK, so let’s be clear. Carmelo Anthony does make last shots. In fact, he makes them quite well. A 48% clip on final shots is a big deal.

Except… it turns out there is more to a basketball game than the last 5 seconds. Games are often decided by more points, and those games are not quite as peachy for Anthony.

In the rest of the game, Anthony is, well, not that great.

He shoots at lower efficiency and rebounds at lower rates, despite his gaudy topline numbers, which mostly come from an ungodly number of shot attempts. The league average small forward takes 16.5 shots per 48 minutes; Anthony takes 26.3. For comparison, Lebron James averages 24.0, Kevin Durant takes 24.7, and Luol Deng takes 18.1. Anthony is not better at shooting than these players, nor are his teammates that much worse. Anthony loves isolation, though, and enjoys shooting the basketball, like many basketball players.

Unfortunately, it turns out that winning basketball is not dependent on the number of shots you take, but on the percentage of shots you make and the number of possessions your team has. And that makes Anthony much less valuable than many other small forwards in the league.

We have a problem in sports where we look at the magnificent last minute shot and the drama that it entails, and we believe that value in a player resides in that moment (see, Aaron Boone, “Big Shot” Billups, Adam Vinatieri, etc.). In fact, most games are decided by more than the last minute shot, and even in the NBA playoffs, wins by more than 4 points are more common than wins than 3 or fewer.

In short, by continuing to play basketball and jack up a huge number of shot attempts despite being inefficient at making them, Anthony is the definition of selfish, regardless of how many times the final shot makes it.

Baseball starts in, like, three days, so basketball will probably take a backseat, but it’s worth noting that the points in any game count the same, no matter what form they take.

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It’s worth waiting until the very end, too.

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“National Signing Day” is among the worst things ever created in the history of bullshit media creations.

If you thought Lebron James’s narcissistic “Decision” was bad enough, the “National Signing Day” provides teenagers the chance to bask in the same spotlight as they choose… which college they will attend.

Now, I know, college sports is big-time business, so it makes sense for highly-touted high school players to be heavily recruited. Whatever.

But the phenomenon of “National Signing Day” is entirely one created by ESPN and its conversion of the day into an all-day media event–an orgy of interviews, TV cameras, etc.

I don’t know what makes me feel so disgusted when I see ESPN’s frontpage slathered with NATIONAL SIGNING DAY in all caps: is it the further perpetuation of the “me-first” culture? Is it the over-inflation of 18-year-olds to god status? Is it the fact that many of these kids, even the highest touted recruits, will end up injured, unprepared, or unsuited for professional football and end up without their college education? Something about the whole affair feels slimy, like those countdown clocks for the Olsen twins turning 18.

It may be the inevitable outcome of the recruiting business, but maybe that should make people think twice about the recruiting business and college sports generally.

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Once your favorite team has been knocked out of contention (and this happens often to Cubs fans), sporting events continue to occur and sports fans continue to watch them. How do you choose which team to root for, particularly when you have no connection to either team?

So, I present to you my rooting hierarchy for NFL football, but be warned that it is still full of caveats and loopholes.

  1. My team (in this case, the Bears, still, although I accept that one can adopt a new home team after a three-year waiting period, shortened to two years if the team is cosmically bad).
  2. Teams with some regional connection or personal link (e.g. the Colts, as a result of my attendance of Indiana University).
  3. Teams that play interesting or creative football (e.g. the Saints or the 49ers)
  4. Big underdogs (e.g. the Rams)
  5. Teams that I basically don’t care about at all but respect for their general competence (e.g. the Falcons)
  6. Historical rival teams (e.g. the Packers)
  7. Teams with obnoxious fans (e.g. the Patriots, the Giants)
  8. Teams I dislike on principle (e.g. the Jets)
  9. Teams I hate profoundly for a specific usually time-sensitive reason (e.g. Tebowmania and/or the Steelers for Ben Roethlisberger)

Although this generally holds true, multiple attributes apply to identical teams. In that case, the lower rung wins out; i.e. the Broncos were big underdogs (#4), but unfortunately they had Tebowmania, which means that #9 applied and I actually rooted for the Patriots yesterday. Similarly, although the Giants would normally be in the competent teams category (#5), the obnoxiousness of their fans that I have observed in Connecticut puts them into category #7, meaning I have to root for the Packers (a strange outcome).

In some other sports, there’s a category between #2 and #3 for players I really like, but in football, there are just too many players.

So, in case you were wondering, that meant my rooting for the divisional series was Pats over Broncos, Saints over 49ers (but just… for being more creative), Packers over Giants, and Texans over Ravens.

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