SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Thursday, June 09, 2016

The Stanford Rape Case

Much has been written and said.  It's hard to imagine how Judge Aaron Persky gave former Stanford swimmer Brock Turner the light sentence that he did.  We expect more out of the judicial system and the hypothetical average kid that goes to an elite institution such as Stanford. 

As for Persky, he goofed, plain and simple.  There are calls for his resignation, his recall and his defeat at the polls in the fall.  My guess is that many will remain hot on this topic to mount a serious challenge to Persky.  That said, the prosecutor in this case has not called for his resignation.  In fact, if you read far and wide enough, the comments that you read about Persky are that he is a good and fair judge.  That said. . .  it's hard to find many quotes from attorneys that would criticize sitting judges.  The reason -- they have to appear before them and so do their firms.  As a result, there is no upside to criticizing a judge publicly after any case.  And that leads to the ultimate question -- is there a meaningful way to hold the judiciary accountable?  We have learned as a society that we have failed to find good ways to hold police accountable, and I think that the same holds true for prosecutors.  And now this, this, well, issue, fiasco, travesty of justice, what have you.

Turner made a terrible decision and committed a terrible act.  What the heck was he thinking?  He picked his sin, and for some reason he was fortunate enough to hire good counsel and then draw a judge like Persky, who was in a lenient sentencing mood.  And while he will have to live with those consequences forever -- being registered as a sex offender, having that on his record -- he is far from a victim here.  True, there is a lot of pressure on Stanford kids, on recruited athletes, on kids with Olympic ambitions, but almost all of them do not sexually assault unconscious women.  Yes, there is a lot of alcohol on campus and promiscuity, but, again, that Turner was drunk should by no means excuse what he did.  Most if not all sexual assaults on campus involve alcohol.  By imbibing and then overimbibing, Turner adopted some very risky behavior that does not usually lead to happy consequences and in this case led to bad ones.  He does not deserve understanding and leniency because he was caught up in a culture of alcohol and sex.  Would Judge Persky have been tougher on him had he been sober?  If so, why?  This was not a case of "he said, she said" or "when does no mean no," and I am sure there are cases that are ambiguous and can be most difficult for triers of fact because, well, the facts are not clear.  We all have to allow for the fact that everyone is entitled to a defense and that sometimes the accused did not do it.  But here, two witnesses caught up to Turner after they caught him in the act.  This wasn't a case of ambiguity -- this was an out and out rape.

Much has been made of the letter that Turner's father wrote.  Turner's father might not have written the most eloquent or sensitive letter, but we all would go pretty far to get our child a good defense lawyer and then write to the judge.  Anyone who has kids can tell you that.  Privately, parents might lecture their children and hold them accountable, but everyone is entitled to a defense and family support.  That doesn't mean that a horrible crime did not take place; of course it did.  I know that there are some people who would argue that Turner did the crime and should do the time and that his parents only are further coddling him by trying to help him and protect him.  Well, parents love their kids regardless of whether they swim in the Olympics or commit a crime.  Those who are aggrieved will pick apart the case and focus on this, but I think that their time would be better spent looking at the California judicial system, sentencing guidelines, how the judge came to this decision and what can be done to make everyone more aware of problems like this on campus and how to prevent them.  And it seems that they are doing just that.

This one left me speechless.  I fully empathize with the victim and her family.  Her note -- read aloud on television -- gives us tremendous insight into what a victim goes through and how horrible her experience was.  First years in college -- and especially men -- should read it and synthesize it and try as much as possible to avoid situations that could lead to the type of behavior that Brock Turner displayed -- and should remember that any woman is someone's sister, someone's daughter, someone's good friend -- and how would you like that to happen to your sister, your daughter or your good friend?  I hope that the victim is getting the help that she needs to recover as best she can; sadly, Judge Persky's abdication of his role exacerbates her pain instead of lessening it.  And I hope that society can take a deep look into problems like the one that befell her and take steps so that no one has to endure what she did.  We will express our outrage at the system for the lenient sentence, and we will respond to that as best we can.  But the victim -- and others like her -- too quickly get forgotten.  And the only way we can solve for the broader problems is by never forgetting them, and continuing to reach out to them and embrace them. 

Atop that, we are a society that reacts after the fact and attacks symptoms rather than causes.  We might be seventy-five pounds overweight and suffer from pre-diabetes and hypertension, but we expect inexpensive pills to help us as opposed to attacking the cause by eating less and more sensibly and by exercising.  We abhor the behavior that Brock Turner displayed but yet it still goes on, much of it in all likelihood unreported.  Society needs to attack the cause of these attacks -- whether it's putting kids in college who do not belong there, treating recruited athletes like they are entitled, something special and unaccountable, creating way too much pressure on them, making alcohol too available, not offering means of dealing with mental health issues, including stress, teaching them values and ethics and good manners -- the list is perhaps endless.  That would help a great deal.  And it's very important.

Because the sister of an undergrad who goes to a party and makes the mistake of drinking too much should end up walked home to sleep it off and not sexually assaulted on asphalt behind a dumpster. 

I hope that some good can come out of the victim's eloquence and her plight, the bad environment at Stanford and on other campuses and the shocking decision from the court in California.  This type of stuff has gone on for way too long.  It's time for society to hit the reset button and do something about it.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Another Side to Former Flyers' Owner Ed Snider

Joseph Heller once wrote that "all that glitters isn't gold."  Snider, who passed away recently, was eulogized as the best sports owner in Philadelphia history and a true visionary in the world of sports.  This article here refutes that and reveals some facts about Snider that got whitewashed over the years.  When you read it, you can draw conclusions at various ends of a spectrum, either that these are lies, or that they're true but that Snider changed over the years, or that Snider's reputation was based on a foundation constructed of silly putty and wet tissues but burnished by a fawning media and his loyalty to sometimes competent and sometimes not ex-Flyers.  Read the article here.

My opinion is that Ted Beitchman's article is true.  I had heard some of the stories from family members and what Beitchman writes confirms what I had heard.  Look, Snider did develop the loyalty of his ex-players and I'm sure did a lot of good things for them and others.  But it doesn't appear that the Flyers were his idea and it seems to appear that he took advantage of Jerry Wolman's difficulties for his own personal gain.  What gets lost in the translation is that he was a horrible leader of the 76ers for 15 years and that his refusal to move away from Flyers' alumni and the 1970's style of play has kept the Flyers without a Stanley Cup since the mid-1970's (and some of that style -- the endless fighting, third men in and bench-clearing brawls -- has basically been heavily regulated and penalized). 

I'm not a hockey fan per se (I like playoff hockey), don't like the fighting aspects of the game and wonder whether any team has a multiple of fans beyond those who regularly attend the games.  The game is hard to follow on television and it's hard to identify with players who wear headgear. 

At the end of the day, I thought that the press missed out on the real Snider the way they missed out on baseball's steroids scandal.  They referred to him as "Mr." long past when they referred to any other figure as Mr.  I just couldn't figure out why.  He owned a sports team, cut an unbelievable and virtually unaccountable deal with the Roberts' family and Comcast to maintain control of a team he ceased owning (and running the 76ers horribly and the Flyers in an up-and-down fashion) and would have been fired after a few years of mismanaging the 76ers had there been any modicum of accountability and would have been fired after say five years given his history after the Flyers lack of progress.  Instead, he was put on this pedestal and given an entitlement to preside over not one but two sports teams because of what he did in the early-to-mid 1970's.  It was hard to believe and hard to take.

That doesn't make him an evil or horrible person, of course, just a person who had his successes (many, some big and all well publicized) and his failures (basically glossed over by a media who either was in awe of him or afraid of losing access or some form of retribution).  What Ted Beitchman does is to try to round out the picture of someone who was about as human in character as many others, if at times more so. 

Sometimes you just have to let it go, as Jerry Wolman did.  But other times to clarify the record the entire story should be told.  And Ted Beitchman did a good job telling it.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Cleveland Rocks or Cleveland Bricks?

A few thoughts:

1.  Because neither Steph Curry nor Klay Thompson hammer at people physically the way LeBron James or Russell Westbrook do, I suspect that many fans believe that the Warriors are a soft, finesse team.  As Kobe Bryant said the other day in an interview on ESPN Radio, both Curry and Thompson are "stone-cold killers."  For what it's worth, the NBA is becoming an outside game, which values finesse over the ability to toss the ball into the low blocks to a big man with a big rear end who can back in and put the ball off the backboard into the basket.  That big man is healthy, but having guys who can hit the three consistently is now the recipe to winning titles.

2. The Cavs are healthier and deeper than last year.  They need to show that depth more in Game Two than they did in Game 1.  Some believe that the Cavs will change their game plan and will win Game Two.  Somehow I don't think that the lapses that the Warriors demonstrated in the OKC series will recur in this one.  Last night, the Warriors had six players score in double figures.  They also have two guys who can harass LeBron James enough to make him work for everything.  LBJ had a pretty good night last night, but the Cavs bench was AWOL and for large parts so was Kyrie Irving.

3.  While I didn't post it here, I told others that I thought the Warriors would win the series in five games.  That's not because I think Cleveland is bad or worse than the Spurs or Thunder.  The Cavs are a very good basketball team.  That also takes into account the strong will and wish of LeBron to bring a title to Cleveland.  It's just that I think that the Warriors woke up and hit their stride both in the last five minutes of Game 6 against the Thunder and in Game 7 of that series.  They realized that they had to dig a little deeper.  Thompson led that effort in the fourth quarter of Game 6, and the team did a much better job as a whole in Game 7.  The Warriors are primed.  Instead of having a grueling series against the Thunder exhaust them, it sharpened their skills.  In contrast, the Cavs hardly had the challenges in the East that the teams in the West faced.  That showed in Game 1 last night.

4.  The James-Love-Irving troika is an impressive three.  While different, I'm not sure that it's as impressive as the Curry-Thompson-Green three.  It's hard to argue against the comment that James is the best player in the game.  But Love disappeared in the Eastern finals in the games in Toronto and Irving, while very good, also can be inconsistent enough that a very good team can exploit his inconsistencies.  Curry, when healthy, is at the pinnacle of the game, and Thompson almost singlehandedly in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against the Thunder saved the Warriors' playoff season.  Green is volative and voluble, a lightning rod for attention and stress, a player you want on your team but hate playing against, the type of catalyst who can combust your engine or, when he misfires, combust your team's chances with bad moments.  Based on last year in the playoffs and this year's regular season, I'll take the Warriors' troika.

5.  Of course, it's not just about three players.  The Warriors' bench outscored the Cavs' bench 42-10 last night.   That cannot continue if the Cavs are to win the championship.

6.  The series is far from over.  They say in soccer that the second goal in a game is the most important one.  Well, the second game in a series might be the most important one.  Sunday night's result will go a long way in telling us the type of series we are going to witness.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Rio Olympics Make Sense Because. . .

It's good to have the Olympics somewhere other than the First World -- Western Europe, the U.S. or Japan.  It's good to have the Olympics in one of the top ten most populated countries in the world.  The climate could be much better than Qatar's for the World Cup in six years.  Brazil's economy was once a raging tiger not so many years ago; now it is a pussycat in need of a rescue.

Its economy is a mess.  At the Confederations Cup two years ago there were massive protests complaining that a country in need of some basics was building so many stadiums for that tournament and the World Cup.  Yes, the World Cup was a success, at least through the roving eyes back in the U.S.  The stadiums looked great, the weather was tolerable, the broadcast crew the best thing since the days of ABC's Wide World of Sports, and the mural that was being painted was sublime. 

What we saw was the veneer, though.  Two years ago there were protests.  Last year there was a fa├žade.  This year the country is like the guy in the cartoon who fell into the shopping cart, got pushed, and now the shopping cart is running at Indy 500 speeds on a downhill slope toward a cliff.  The president of the country will be fired.  And then what?

Atop that, well-identified pollution problems plague the waters were rowing and sailing will be held.  Now there's the presence of the Zika virus.  Brazil's problems kind of remind me of the story behind Rasputin's death.  He was poisoned, clubbed, stabbed, shot and then thrown into the river.  When found, the cause of death was drowning.  The good news in that parable is that Rasputin was stubborn enough to hang in there.  The bad news was that he was so vilified and of such character that many wanted him dead.  Brazil, no doubt, will reveal national pride, but it has so many maladies it will be a wonder if they pull off the Olympics without a hitch, with no athletes getting sick, and without further hurting their economy. 

If you read this you like sports, but we have to ask ourselves periodically how much we emphasize sports over solving much more important problems, like hunger, human trafficking, global warming and pollution.  Building stadiums where people need basic structure or building a $62.5 million high school football stadium in a state with a lot of poor people just doesn't make a lot of sense.  There are times -- and places -- for competitions and for celebrations. 

It just doesn't seem that Rio in 2016 should be one of them or will be one of them.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Baylor Fiasco

If you wrote this as a novel, unless it were a Carl Hiassen farce, people wouldn't believe it because of the two major elements to the story:

1.  Christian school.
2.  School president is former White House Special Prosecutor.

Then again, people might believe it because

1.  It is college football.
2.  It is college football in Texas.
3.  College football is a big business.

Add to that the confusion between the good book and idolatry.  Baylor fans worship God and Art Briles, the now-deposed football coach, and it made you wonder at times in what order. 

Football came first, as did the attention and money that went with it.  Protecting, among others, everyone's daughters, having a process for letting victims speak up safely and treating them with fairness, have a process to investigate allegations quickly, fairly and effectively, not so much.  And now Baylor has a huge mess that snowballed out of proportion because there were institutional failures too numerous to count.  Before anyone goes on a feeding frenzy, not all Baylor employees are awful people and not all Baylor football players are criminals.  All have to be careful to stick to the facts and not paint any situation with a broad brush.  Yes, it is a mess. 

How does it get this far?  I do not want in any way to diminish the importance of the victims here -- the women who were assaulted.  They have suffered immeasurably and no one not a victim can say "I know how you feel," because they do not.  But there are symptoms that are deeply rooted in our culture that give rise both to the offending behaviors and the lack of accountability that need to be addressed.  Among those are:

1.  Let's stop anointing football players as untouchable demi-gods from the time they are 10.
2.  Let's stop overlooking their transgressions because those transgressions might mess up their transgressions and ruin their chances at a "full ride."
3.  Let's figure out alternative ways for them to deal with their frustrations, aggressions and stress constructively and when they are not being watched.  In other words, let's work on their coping and social skills -- in a big way.   Society puts a lot of pressure on these kids to train and perform, perhaps too much so for young men this young.  That statement is not meant to excuse the bad behavior, but perhaps to identify a cause for it. 
4.  Let's examine how football coaches talk about women and tolerate what else is said about women.  Women are very important people, period, who command respect and treatment with decency.  They are not objects for football players' amusement.  And they have every right to say no all the time.
5.  Let's de-couple the good feelings a school might have or earn for itself from the success of any athletic team.  Football, after all, should be an extracurricular activity.  Sadly, in many places, it is a business, and at most FBS schools a poorly run one, as a huge majority of DI football programs lose money.  But if we could de-couple the two, somehow administrators would be able to treat every department and program equally and not have to look the other way because influential alums might deny donations or get them fired if they don't enable the football program to overlook bad behavior if otherwise three key players might get dismissed from the team.  The better argument is that every school that gives a kid a pass on bad behavior is doing him a disservice.  Everyone needs feedback and accountability, especially in these very formative years.  Show me a kid who doesn't get held accountable for more basic, non-criminal transgressions, and I'll show you a kid who will have trouble in the work force and perhaps in life.  Not holding players accountable for sexual assaults -- when then anyone who knew about the attack should be working elsewhere, not at a university and not with college kids.
6.  Let's stop putting college football coaches on pedestals.  They are not leaders who could run corporations (which require a lot more dexterity, inclusion, process and sensitivity) or who could lead governments -- at least as a general proposition.  Most are dictators who get things their way almost all the time.  Some are snake-oil salesmen, using kids for their own gain without caring about their progressing toward a meaningful degree.  Many live lives that are way out of balance.  They are human beings, flawed human beings, just like the rest of us. 

What happened to the Christian aspects of Baylor?  What happened to the moral high ground that Ken Starr used to define and insist that he operated on?  What happened to dignity and decency for all students?  And, Art Briles, what would have happened if your daughter was a victim?  Let's remember, if an assault happens to anyone's daughter, it could have happened to our own daughters.  And that's a scary thought.  Who was protecting those young women?  Shouldn't the adults in the room report matters up the chain, be prepared to demonstrate integrity even if it were to mean losing football games because of suspended or dismissed players, and be expected to care about and take care of all kids at the university? 

It's a sad day all around.  I just fear that there are other situations out there, perhaps many others, because universities get so focused on winning football games that they forget their overall missions and doing the right thing as much as possible.  There is much more to life than football games.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Why are There So Many Transfers in College Basketball?

Occam's Razor suggest that the simplest solution is usually the best one.  This ESPN.com article gives some flavor to how big this issues is.  Ergo. . .

1.  You are dealing with kids who have had a lot of success in basketball and are running into failure for the first time.  Head coach and assistant coach woo the kid, project the kid to get all sorts of playing time, possibly to be a star.  Head coach and assistant coach are embellishing if not lying.  Not everyone can be a star, not everyone can get a lot of playing time.  Something has to give.  Kid might be lying to himself -- he might believe what his friends and coaches are telling him -- that he is the man.  Deep down, though, the kid might know that he has to develop his other hand, needs to get more stamina and has to work on his jumper.  But he chooses the easier path -- which is to believe -- totally -- what he is told in the wooing process.  So, after a season or two, when the coach who was sweet talking him turns out to be a meanie, a liar, favoring others and this kid sits at the end of the bench, he gets irritated.  Perhaps he got sold a bill of goods.  Perhaps the coach isn't being fair.  Perhaps he his mad at himself because he wasn't totally sure of the situation.  Most definitely, he isn't ready to give up the dream of finding a better spot.  Transferring, like second marriages, represents the triumph of hope over experience.  It's a leap of faith, especially if you thought you were burned.  And if you didn't think you were burned, you at least are more relaxed and say, "well, it wasn't a good fit for me, and I have to find a better place."  Remember, we're dealing with teenagers mostly, and they are not fully formed.  They are dealing with frustration, disappointment and failure -- many for the first time in their young lives.  They are feeling all sorts of emotions and have started to doubt themselves.  And it hurts.  A change of scenery could help.

2.  Social media doesn't help things.  It's much easier to figure out what is going on at other schools, who will have a need for your position in the following season or two, who might be leaving, who might be unhappy, what have you.  And the kids can read about themselves much more, too.  Imagine if you're eighteen and you read that you didn't show up the way people thought, that you're a stiff, that you aren't a good fit.  And then you match that up with the feedback you get from the coaches and your playing time.  And then you have your friends giving you all sorts of advice.  You're nineteen, your head is spinning.  It gets filled up with all sorts of clutter about your skills, your future, who is being honest with you about your potential and who has lied, what have you.  So, you tap into your network -- your parents, your AAU coach -- and you put out feelers to the schools that recruited you before and, if you're really savvy, schools that might have a real need for your position.  Now, those schools might have warts, too, and they might have openings precisely because kids they recruited didn't think that they got a fair deal.  No matter, because you are desperate to find a better fit and the coach at that school shouldn't make the same mistake twice.  You also might have grown and become more mature in dealing with your first disappointment.  In any event, the omnipresence of the media just heightens the players sensitivities.

3.  Coaches Never Stop Recruiting and Players Never Stop Being Recruited.  When there is an epidemic, there is a persistent, spreading problem.  So, most coaches must think that they are going to lose some of every freshman class.  Their assistants probably keep tabs with a select number of AAU coaches of players that they missed out on, ostensibly to find out about new prospects but clandestinely to see how those kids like their new schools.  Correspondingly, if a kid doesn't like his situation, he taps into his network, which includes his AAU coach, and asks that coach to put out feelers to some of the schools he rejected.  It can become a vicious cycle.  If you're a head coach fighting hard to compete every year, you do the "keep tabs, continuous recruiting of current college players" thing to make sure that you will have a robust roster every year.  If you're a player, well, you didn't become an elite player and draw Division I interest because you were clueless.  After some trending trouble, you'll put out some feelers to ascertain who might be interested in you.  And then the cycle gets worse.

4.  One-year renewable scholarships also are a problem, especially when paired with lucrative long-term deals for head coaches.  If you're a bit at the margins at your DI program, you probably should keep in touch with your high school and AAU coaches just in case you feel that the winds are blowing the wrong way and you might not get renewed.  And you might then want to jump before you're pushed, so to speak, so that the quest to transfer looks like it was your decision.  Invariably, if you were good enough in high school, some other DI coach will view you as a bargain and try to sign you up quickly.  I don't know whether granting kids a four-year scholarship that is automatically renewable would make a difference.  You would think that for some kids who ultimately might be happy sitting on the end of the bench that it might.

5.  The pressure on coaches to win and their lucrative compensation puts enormous pressure on them to win and might encourage unethical tactics.  I don't think I need to write anything more here.  The headline says it all.

I don't blame the kids for wanting to transfer.  Sure, in a perfect world they should pick a school because it's the right fit for them and because they can get a good education.  And most DI basketball players would subscribe to that, especially because most will not play for money after college.  But they have to spend so much time to get good enough to get noticed, it's hard to blame them for not wanting to play in DI after putting all that time in.  Travel basketball is a year-round phenomenon, and the kids want to get the playing time and accolades that they thing that they have earned.  Besides, who wants to have his signing of a letter of intent be the crowning achievement of his career?  College should be the next chapter in a fun journey, not the end of the road for the player. 

The kids are standing up to an authoritarian system and authoritarian coaches.  It's hard to argue with.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Sign of the Times on ESPN.com

If you like sports, you read that website.  In the middle right, there is a list of headlines with hyperlinks to the text.  One of those headlines is that Everton sacked Roberto Martinez. 

Say what?

Everton is not a team in any of the major US sports leagues.  It isn't a university, either.  And yet, on the American website, the firing of the manager (read:  head coach) of an also-ran top-division English soccer club gets a headline of this prominence -- even at a time when ESPN has a website dedicated totally to soccer. 

What should we read into this?

1.  It's a slow news day, and, sorry, but outside Max Scherzer's striking out 20 of his former Tiger teammates there is no sports news this morning.

2.  Soccer has become a much bigger deal in the U.S.

3.  More global readers read ESPN.com than in years past.

4.  Many Americans got to know Roberto Martinez during ESPN's telecasts of the World Cup in 2014 and came to like him, so he's somewhat better known in the U.S. than, say, Guus Hiddink.

5.  Perhaps those who read ESPN.com right now do not find baseball as compelling as fans thirty years ago did.

6.  All of the above.

And why?  Well, for one thing, the average age of an MLB fan is about 56 years old, and hockey seems to have a limited audience beyond those who attend games.  It's the off-season for college football and basketball, and while the NBA playoffs can be fascinating, they don't hold the broad sports audience night after night.  Whether they should at this stage is a totally different issue.  But with soccer -- and the nascency of its being broadcast from England into the U.S. on NBC Sports Channel -- there is much more interested, especially because a) mostly all games but Cup games have concluded and b) we could be upon one of the most volatile transfer seasons in recent memory.

While this is great for soccer, it is not as good for those who got displaced.  My read is that the elders of baseball should be very worried about the demographics of their fans base.

As for Martinez, he seems to be a good guy who lost his team.  He's a natural in the broadcast booth, and here's to wishing him well and finding the next good job.