Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Sports Apocalypse

Here's another article I wrote applying for a Freep article that I think most people will find interesting (especially my theory at the end). Check it out. The article carries even more weight in light of the Patriots signal stealing scandal.

Professional sports in America are in deep trouble. In the last month alone, there have been three major events that could change the history of US sports forever. Whether it was the Tim Donaghy National Basketball Association Referee Scandal, Michael Vick and the dog fighting fiasco, or Barry Bonds and the new home run record, it has Been Bad News Bears all over American sports. Now there are even rumors that steroids are being used in golf. In the National Hockey League, there may not be an end-all event, but the league now has primetime games being played on a small network having an identity crisis. (The Outdoor Life Network has become Versus.)

With all these things happening, profits for these sports are in jeopardy. Michael Vick may want to lay off the daily double for now, because his future could involve a serious pay cut in his contract, and it has already lost him millions in endorsements and even the support of many fans. He could face up to a year in prison, and even with a plea bargain, he would still most likely miss the entire 2007 season. His absence in the Atlanta offense will definitely destroy any game plans Head Coach Bobby Petrino has of centering his run game around his play caller. It hurts the Falcons franchise for having such a person on their team. It hurts the whole National Football League for the same reasons. Vick’s status as an NFL star is almost certainly destroyed.

As if one huge player controversy wasn’t enough, the most hallowed record in United States sports was broken by the perfect storm of negative attention. Barry Bonds, the all-time home run champ, has his post-1998 career is a shroud of questions and asterisks. He told a Grand Jury that he has never willingly taken steroids, but the difference in his performance is obvious. He was a 40-homer-a-year player before the “magical” summer of 1998, when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa could do no wrong. After being overshadowed by Ken Griffey Junior as the face of baseball in the early 1990s, and McGwire and Sosa in 1998, Bonds faced a tough decision: should he take steroids and immediately steal the spotlight, or should he continue to be the future Hall-of-Fame quality player without any scientific help? He chose the former (as did many other players of the time), and baseball has never been the same. Bonds could have been a hero in a time of many villains by playing substance free. Instead he made himself public enemy #1 thanks to his lack of respect for the game of baseball. He alienated himself even more by the way he acted towards the media and even more so the public. It’s easy to pick on him for what he did, and I personally don’t agree that he is a worthy record holder. However, one has to think hard about this Bonds character. He reminds me of Matt Damon’s character in The Departed. He is faced with an extremely tough decision, and unfortunately makes the wrong one. In some ways, he didn’t have much of a choice.

The combination of Vick and Bonds brings up an even more sensitive issue in American culture. Both Bonds and Vick are African-American, which should have nothing to do with the way these cases are treated. However, in a society where every crime suspect on the news is a young black man, it only makes African-Americans as a whole look even worse. On top of that, it makes Americans in general look bad to themselves and other countries for thinking that way. The only thing that somewhat keeps this feeling in check is the Caucasian NBA referee, Tim Donaghy.

Donaghy got himself into a sticky situation with organized crime, and there’s still some residue on his slacks. He plead guilty to gambling on NBA games with privileged information, and even worse, fixing many of the games he bet on. He could very well be a catalyst in the integrity check the NBA is about to go under. With huge officiating issues in both the 2006 and 2007 Playoffs (whether it was Dwayne Wade And-oneing his way to an NBA Finals Championship last year or the horrific Spurs-Suns series this year), Donaghy’s confession only confirms the worst. It will expand the curiosity of both the fans and hard-nosed commissioner David Stern. With the way the tide eerily turned in many games in recent memory, each and every referee will be questioned, and even accused of the same charges by some people. Much like the steroids issue in baseball, fixed games will ruin the credibility of all parties involved.

Whether your favorite team sport is football, baseball, or basketball, it’s having the roughest period it has faced in years. Even the morals of our society are being put in check by the happenings in our favorite pastimes. To end on a lighter, less Chicken-Little note, this could mean something positive for a few million Chicago sports fans. If there’s one year I had to bet on the Cubs to win the World Series, it would be this year. Without even considering the new look they have, a sports apocalypse calls for nothing short of the end of a 99 year drought. Go Cubbies!

It's been a while...

But I figured I'd get back in the swing of things. School started up again, and I sent some more material to the Freep to try to get a weekly column. I think I really hit the nail on the head in this one. It might be a surprise to some people out there, but it's the truth. Even I can't keep defending Boston sports fans anymore.

As A League of Their Own put it, there’s no crying in baseball. If Tom Hanks doesn’t do it for you, maybe the Governator will. “You lack discipline!” Arnold Schwarzenegger may have been speaking to five year olds in Kindergarten Cop when he said that, but his wise words (along with Hanks’) apply perfectly to Boston sports fans right now. A decade ago, it was a different story. The Celtics were a mediocre team in a mediocre conference, the Red Sox had to compete with one of the best dynasties of all time in the late 1990s New York Yankees, the Bruins were a lackluster team with a couple stars, and the Patriots were a joke. There was endless complaining about the teams’ floundering, and there still is to this day. I can’t say much positive about the Bruins at this point, other than they’re improving, but the other three teams are drastically better.

Since that dismal period in Boston folklore, when the Celtics missing out on Tim Duncan wasn’t even the biggest misfortune, it has been a euphoric time to be a fan here. The Red Sox have won a World Series, and are poised to win another in the near future. The Patriots won three Superbowls in four years, beefed up their biggest weakness (wide receiver), and got the best defensive free agent on the market. The Celtics didn’t end up with Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, but in a bold move by General Manager Danny Ainge, they acquired one of the best complete front court players of all time in Kevin Garnett, and got Ray Allen for perimeter shooting. Now they’re trying to coax Reggie Miller, one of the most clutch players in NBA history, to come out of retirement.

Boston has been known for years to be a city of sarcasm and complaints, but the latter has no place here anymore. Fans from other areas have complained about the negative Nancy attitude in Boston, and they are absolutely right. The Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics now all have among the highest paid teams in the country, and all have legitimate shots at championships, or at least making it there in the case of the Celtics. The month of October this year will be one of the most exciting ones in years’ past. With the Red Sox most likely in the playoffs, and the Patriots and Celtics seasons starting up, the Cask ‘n’ Flagon will be packed every night.

Boston has also been known to be one of the worst sports cities in terms of winning, but it was the Philadelphia Phillies that reached 10,000 losses this season. The city on the Charles has four championships since 2002, including a stretch in 2004-2005 that featured the Red Sox’ World Championship sandwiched in between Patriots Superbowl victories. I may have complained on air at WZLX about the 10 game lead the Red Sox had in July, but that was sarcasm at its best. The Red Sox have an easier schedule than the Yankees for the remainder of the season (although not by much), and they already have a lead in the division. They have their best bullpen in franchise history, and have the Major League’s best run differential. There is no reason for Boston sports fans to complain anymore. Their teams are great now, and have been in the recent past.

Even before the run of championships in this decade, Boston was not as bad as people thought in team athletics. It was ranked in the top five of a recent study on city winning percentages on all four major team sports. Its overall championship drought was shorter than many other areas, including Cleveland, where there hasn’t been one since the Indians won the World Series in 1948. West coast metropolises such as San Diego have never had a championship (unless you count the now defunct American Football League). In other words, Boston fans should sit down, shut up, and enjoy the ride. It might not last much longer, and many places have been without a reign even close to this. Since 2002, New England has been the region to beat in professional sports. Being jaded by victory is the last thing Boston fans need on their minds, but it’s unfortunately already there. I’m a big Boston sports fan myself, and I know it’s hard to change your ways. However, if Boston pro sports fans want any respect from other fans, they will appreciate the greatness going on now.