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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Saturday, January 31, 2015

On Weight and "Fat Shaming"

I'll be the first to admit that I didn't read the newspaper article about the allegedly offensive e-mail at Bryn Mawr College (which has, on the scale of sensitivity, an extremely high sensitivity threshold for these things lest not to offend anyone except, perhaps, those supporting cause where it is okay to pile on -- such as, perhaps, anyone they disagree with), and of course I do not want to see anyone bullied or picked on or shamed.   And weight is a potentially explosive issue -- there can be many medical reasons for people to be both overweight and underweight, and we should be sympathetic to people with problems (all of my chiding of the students and alums at this historic and excellent college, aside).

That said, there is one issue that Americans need to focus on, regardless of what this e-mail said, and that's calorie intake and, yes, weight.  Obesity, for whatever reason, is an epidemic in this country, and people generally overeat and are out of shape.  They drive instead of walk, they eat a lot of grease, fat, carbohydrates and processed sugar, they are happy to watch TV on their 60-inch screens and aisles, vast aisles, at your supermarkets are full of things like ice cream that taste great but that contribute to the problem.  That's hard to refute, even if that brushes up against the sensitivity around young women, weight, and body image.  I get that both present serious challenges when addressing them.

So, I'll try to adopt a different approach.  People should watch not only the quantity of their calories, but also what constitutes their daily calorie intake.  They should watch the bread, the wheat, the dairy products (save egg whites), the processed sugar, the fried foods, the potatoes, etc.  They should make sure that they get a good balance of foods, drink plenty of water to stay properly hydrated, watch the caffeine, watch the alcohol, watch the snacking and the stress eating.  Like sweets?  Try a small block of 72% or 85% chocolate, which offers much less sugar content.  Like yogurt?  The probiotics are great, but most flavored ones have a lot of sugar.  Try plain yogurt, and sprinkle cinnamon on it (cinnamon has the effect of helping reduce blood sugar).  Like wine?  Great, but limit yourself to how much.  Sure, it's a "free country" and you can do whatever the heck you want, but as we move toward national health insurance, let's try to minimize the burden by taking better care of ourselves.

Diet is critical, as I know too many folks who exercise only to pop two beers in the evening and eat wings with ranch dressing and french fries.  You need to do both.  And when you exercise, you don't need two hours a day.  Try to get 30 minutes a day of good cardiovascular exercise and then say do ten minutes of stretching -- neck, back, hamstrings -- so that you can feel better.  You don't have to spend two hours at the gym trying to look like Charles Atlas or the flavor of the month from the professional wrestling circuit.  You just need to budget your time and be smart about it.

I adopted this approach last May and lost about 25 pounds over the course of 7 months.  I've regressed a bit -- travel, an injury and the holidays have seen me regain several of them, but I'm rededicated to resuming what I started to do last May to keep my weight down.  And I have felt better in the process.  I'm still tinkering with the exercise and the diet, but the basics are down.

Look, it's all up to the individual as to his/her approach to weight.  Some are better able than others to stay in shape.  For some, it's a battle of their will versus temptation; for others, there are genetic predispositions that could prove to be problematic.  I get all that.  But if you do try to take the situation into your own hands, you could feel a lot better.  All that said, if you're not sure or before you embark upon this journey, talk to your doctor about it.  Get her input, work on a plan, and get started.  It will be hard at first, but then you'll be proud of what you're walking away from and looking forward to your daily routine.

The Super Bowl

It's hard to figure out who is less likable -- Bill Belichick, who has a big cultural issue, to put it mildly, or Pete Carroll, who on his face seems very likable, but then you wonder about what he knew during the Reggie Bush years at USC.  One is grumpy, the other seems like he could do a duet with Pharell Williams for the version of "Happy 2."  If you are not from the Boston or Seattle areas, you probably have trouble figuring out for whom to root.

I think that most of the unaffiliated will choose Seattle.  "Deflate-gate" atop "Spygate" atop which might have happened during the 2004 Super Bowl against the Eagles atop whatever else tends to tip the scales in favor of the Seahawks.  I am not a huge fan, though, of intermittent displays of a lack of humility there, as Marshawn Lynch has personality problems and Richard Sherman is, well, brilliant and great if at time overconfident and irritating.  Then again, I'd love to have him in my secondary.  Plus, the secondary there is great and Russell Wilson is a great guy.  Or so he seems.

So, the event will take place, and either the Patriots will regain the title after a ten-year drought or Seattle will be the first team to win consecutive Super Bowls since, well, I don't really remember.  Hopefully, the pivotal moment in the game will be Tom Brady's trying to stop Richard Sherman from pulling a pick six, and then having someone from New England -- most likely Belichick -- stick out a leg from the sidelines to trip him, only to have the play reviewed and, despite clarity for those watching at home, viewed as inconclusive.  That would make the night interesting and compelling.  Katy Perry, not so much.

This is the first time in a while that I've felt this way about a Super Bowl.  Last year, the unaffiliated wanted the Last Hurrah for Peyton Manning, or, at least, all of the non-haters did.  This year, is it the triumph of the bizarre (Lynch) over evil (Belichick)?  Or something like that?

At any rate, enjoy the wings, enjoy the artisanal beers and grab some Skittles so that you can gulp them if Lynch were to score.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The UNC "Academic Fraud in the Inducement" Lawsuit

Former UNC athletes Rashanda McCants and Devon Ramsey have filed a class action lawsuit against the University of North Carolina for basically failing to provide solid academics with sound instruction. Translated, that means that they allege that the UNC did everything to keep them eligible without caring enough about progress toward a meaningful degree, that is, one that non-athletes or non-revenue athletes typically get.

This strikes me as the type of lawsuit UNC and NCAA Division 1 institutions will throw everything they have to defend themselves.  The stakes are large, and the number of possible defendants huge.  What these plaintiffs essentially are arguing is that they were there to help the coaches keep their jobs or advance their careers and that staying eligible to win the next game was more important to the school than their taking courses that would have them progress to a degree (and, at that, in something other than landscape architecture for basketball courts).   The counter-argument is that the schools provided these athletes with scholarships and that they bore no small measure of personal responsibility to work with all of the advisors they had at their disposal to work on an academic plan that would lead to the degree of their choice.  And, the argument goes, if they didn't do that, they have no one to blame but themselves and either their lack of academic ability or academic ambition.  The icing on the cake of that argument is:  "where is their own personal responsibility?"

Of course, the answer to that question is not that easy, not with promises that were dangled during recruiting, especially to poor kids from low-income and/or single-parent families that the coaches treat the players like family and that they would ensure that the recruit would graduate.  Add to that cocktail the fact that scholarship are one-year renewable, which means that coaches under tremendous pressure to, say, beat Duke, will recruit kids that might be at the margins on occasion and then do things to keep them eligible instead of helping them get degrees in teaching, engineering or management.  (As an aside, I have a friend who pays full freight for his son to play at a DIII school, where the coach advises the kids what courses to take so that they can be done by noon and work with the strength-and-conditioning coaches.  If that happens at DIII, one can only imagine what might go on at some DI schools).

Atop that, there are all of the scandals that have gone on at Carolina, allegedly a "public" Ivy, with a sterling reputation polished by none other than coaching legend Dean Smith.  Yet, all of the headlines in the past year paint a picture of an academic version of "The Jerry Springer Show" -- if proven.  And, if true, if stuff like that could transpire at such a hallowed place as UNC, imagine what else could go on at other schools, all in the name of school spirit, funding the athletic program, golden-calf worship and whatever else the alums and boosters want to call it.

I have never met the plaintiffs and get skeptical about class-action lawsuits given all of the fraud that took place (and apparently continues to do so) in asbestos-related cases (which tarnishes the names of the good plaintiffs lawyers who have brought legitimate cases over the years).  That said, I have wondered -- after reading various accounts at different schools -- about all of the energy that goes into these programs, from wooing kids with endless texts and handwritten letters to trying to seeing whether they qualify academically to keeping them eligible once they get there.  Now, it could be the case that some of these kids do not belong in college, either because they aren't interested in school or because their academic records suggests that perhaps they should be doing something else.  Once they are admitted, however, the school seems to owe them something more than the scholarship that they give them.  It seems to owe them a decent chance to have the time to take good courses -- the courses everyone else takes -- and to graduate in majors that everyone else pick.

There are a lot of bad facts out there, single data points that do not combine to form trends, as everyone's case surely is different.  But all of the smoke around hallowed Carolina suggests that something was awry for a long time and ran deep within the Carolina blue culture.  The NCAA investigation and potential sanctions are a big enough problem, but this lawsuit hits at the core of what a student-athlete is or is not, should or should not be, and should or not not be accountable for.  There is, somewhere, a baseline beyond the dollars and cents of the scholarship that a university should provide, and, given all universities' publicly stated missions about doing good, that they owe to the kids they bring in, especially with kids from backgrounds where no one went to college or can guide them as to what to expect.

Otherwise, even with the scholarship, room and board, it's exploitation -- for commercial gain and so that a bunch of alumni can come back and feel better about themselves because U beats State, beats the snooty private U in the state, can win the conference and go onto the post-season.

And littered on the sidelines, among the torn-off tape, torn jerseys and broken cleats are the lives of the kids who might have acted entitled and special because of their own gifts, but who also were too young and perhaps too poor to know any better, and, who, at the core, trusted the people making the recruiting pitch that there was a happily ever after out there.  But the alums and the locals and all of the people who enjoy the end product don't see all, the same way that they enjoy sausage but perhaps would be a bit sick to their stomachs if they saw it made.   We're not just talking about sport and fun and entertainment and competition, we're talking about a disproportionate amount of money at some schools  spent on very few kids and then failing to help them progress with their lives.

I hope that's not the case, especially not at a place as respected heretofore as UNC, but if it is, then shame on UNC, shame on the administration, shame on the alums and shame on all of us.  Because if the pushing through of kids without any caring about substantive skill building happened there, then it could happen anywhere and probably has.  We read about Dexter Manley, and we read in "ESPN the Magazine" about some kids at Oklahoma State.  And now we're reading about UNC.

Let's remember that these are the lives of young adults, first and foremost, and that the games played are games that kids play.  Too many times, though, the adults get involved and mess them up.

Let's hope that this is not what happened at UNC.  And regardless of whether it did, let's hope that the powers that be at all colleges turn this problem into an opportunity to benefit scholarship athletes everywhere.  Yes, the scholarship is a gift and a great thing, but not when it's used to churn and burn young people.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Why the Eagles Should Not Go "All In" on Marcus Mariota

Eagles' fans seem obsessed with a few aspects of this past season:

1.  Their disappointment in not making the playoffs despite the fact that a) their starting QB was playing hurt and b) they lost their starting QB for most of the season.

2.  Chip Kelly's first-round draft pick was a bust.

3.  Bradley Fletcher, one of their cornerbacks, really was Badly Fletcher.

4.  Finally, that the cure to all of their ills is Oregon's QB, Marcus Mariota.

It's the latter that seems to be an obsession on talk radio.  "Imagine him in our offense."  "He's the best college QB."  "He's the best college QB in a while."  And perhaps he's more of an answer for the Eagles than a guard named Iverson was The Answer for the 76ers.

Here's why that logic is flawed:

1.  No team has ever moved up from #20 to #1 in the first round.
2.  The Eagles' have too many holes in their squad for them to trade their next three #1 picks plus defensive lineman Fletcher Cox.
3.  Mariota's offense has been so dominant that some pundits (prominent among them, Trent Dilfer) wonder how good an NFL QB he will be while others (such as Ron Jaworski) think that he'll be good, but perhaps not right away.
4.  Dad always told me not to draw to an inside straight; it's a risky proposition.  Translated, there has to be more than one answer for the Eagles than opening up the vault of future draft picks for Mariota (the Vikings did that to pry Herschel Walker from the Cowboys, and all of those picks enabled Jimmy Johnson to win a bunch of Super Bowls in Dallas).
5.  Most QBs who have won the Heisman haven't turned out great.

So. . . . the fans should be careful what they wish for.  I'll just take a better draft from Kelly than the one he gave us in 2014.  And perhaps a #1 receiver who can spread the field, an aggressive linebacker and a few defensive backs who scare the opposition.

I like Mariota and think he could be good.  But he has to make more NFL-type throws than he has, as the Oregon offense has enabled him to throw to open receivers more than throw into the tight coverages that NFL receivers normally see.  And that will take some adjustments, but he could well make them.    But still, the Eagles and their fans have to continue to look for answers outside Oregon.  And those answers are out there, and the team and the fans shouldn't be too bummed if somehow they cannot draft Marcus Mariota.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

76ers and Pacers at Wells Fargo Center on Saturday Night

Question:  Are the 76ers worth watching?

Short Answer:  Absolutely.

Facts:

1.  Their point guard is not a good shooter.
2.  Their center does not have much of an offensive game.
3.  Their #1 draft pick is out for the year (as the player referenced in point #2 was out for the year the year before).
4.  They have two very good college players from last year getting meaningful minutes.
5.  Their second-best offensive player (behind their third guard, who might be their best) went to a school down south that a high school kid goes to if the SEC overlooks him and played in the D-League last year.  But he's about 6'8" with a jump shot.
6.  They have a kid from Turkey who seemingly sets screens and, well, that's about it.
7.  Their back-up center is a center from Georgetown, but, sadly, not in the same realm as players like Ewing, Mourning, Mutombo or Hibbert.
8.  The visiting team was missing their best player, one of the league's best in Paul George. 
9.  The best player on the floor last night was the Pacers' power forward, David West.
10.  Arguably the second best player on the floor last night was Pacers' shooting guard Rodney Stuckey (who someone missed the big conference coaches' radar screens and played his college basketball at Eastern Washington).
11.  Roy Hibbert might have had a better time watching the game from a room at the Four Seasons Hotel than playing in it.

Reasoning:

1.  Under Coach Brett Brown, the 76ers play hard.  If someone (GM Sam Hinkie?) sent them an e-mail telling them that they're supposed to lose, well, they didn't get it.  They might be overmatched, but the players are having fun out there.

2.  Brown did a masterful job substituting players last night.

3.  The former D-League all-star, Robert Covington, hit many key threes and a prayer of a blind scoop shot in the last 30 seconds to help the team win.

4.  Another erstwhile D-Leaguer, JaKarr Sampson, had a spectacular dunk off an alley-oop.

5.  Back-up center Henry Sims acquitted himself well with a ten-and-five type of night, although at one time he frightened the faithful when he was running the offense while dribbling behind the three-point line.

6.  While center Nerlens Noel is as skinny at your average #2 pencil, he had a few key blocks.

7.  Rookies C.J. McDaniel and Jerami Grant played some very good minutes, with McDaniel hitting some shots and Grant making some good defensive stops.

8.  It is hard to tell whether Michael Carter-Williams is a lot more than a prolific (if not accurate) player on a bad team.  

9.  The 76ers have great fans.  I cannot emphasize this point enough.   They pay serious money for NBA tickets, and the team that the ownership puts out there won't confuse anyone with those that fielded Wilt Chamberlain or Julius Erving.  And, yet, the fans appreciate the effort that this basketball version of the Bad News Bears plays.  They bring a good effort each time down the floor, even if the ownership's strategy is to lose as much as possible (last year it was "Winless for Wiggins," and perhaps this year it's "Oh for Okafor").  

10.  So, in summary, hard-working young players seeking to impress the entire NBA, a smart, energetic coach and a devoted fan base all combine to make the experience a very good one.

Go watch the 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center -- it's actually a lot of fun.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Baseball's Hall of Fame

What's great about Hall of Fame balloting is that there isn't always rhyme or reason to it.  That means that the fan base at large, despite the proliferation of all sorts of metrics, will have weeks' worth of arguments of the relative merits of, say, Curt Schilling and Mike Mussina, both of whom deserve entry even though neither will muster sufficient votes. 

What's awful about Hall of Fame balloting is that there isn't always rhyme or reason to it.  That means that voters can summon whatever metrics they want to vote someone into the Hall of Fame.  Look, there are all sorts of metrics, but it shouldn't be controversial that Craig Biggio should get it -- he had a long and productive career and managed over 3,000 hits.  And, yet, he didn't get in on the first ballot.  Mega-stars like Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez should get in, but somehow they won't be unanimous, even though by the end of their careers most, if not all, fans would have agreed that their careers were Hall worthy.  And perhaps they won't be unanimous because voters get only ten votes, which means that some will ration theirs and preserve them for the otherwise worthy, such as Alan Trammell, who is running out of chances, and Fred McGriff, a beacon and very productive player who did not take steroids during what's now known as the Steroids Era. 

The Hall will announce the results tomorrow, and then the discussions will ensue, as they always do.  Tim Raines (finally) should have a shot, as should John Smoltz, as should Biggio.  But others who are worthy will split their votes with yet others who are worthy (out of the presumption that the vote rationers will allocate a vote that should have gone to a second-tier worthy to a third-tier worthy, for whatever reason).  Jayson Stark makes an eloquent plea for about 14 former players, even though he could only vote for ten of them.

By tomorrow afternoon, we will know.  And then let the debates begin.