Saturday, February 15, 2014

Michael Sam's Story

I struggle with writing about social issues; not because I don’t think it’s important, but because I fear I won’t do it justice.  I thoroughly believe sports can open doors and hearts the way that very few things can.  That said, my own apathy for stories involving the personal lives of athletes is well documented.  So when Missouri defensive end (and potential 2014 NFL draftee) Michael Sam announces nationally that he is gay, I have a decision to make; do I treat the story as I normally would, peeking into the information only to glean what it might mean to on-field play? Or do I attempt to put the social issue in a larger historical context?

I can’t pretend I care about what Sam does in the bedroom, but I also won’t pretend that his announcement shouldn’t be met with some sort of reaction.  Sam’s announcement stands in stark contrast to Jason Collins’ coming out process.  Collins was at the end of his career (Collins still hoped to be picked up in free agency, but regardless of why he isn’t playing now, he was undoubtedly in the twilight of his basketball life), while Sam’s declaration on the beginning of the most scrutinized part of his life—a time that will determine his finances in the near future.

I feel like this story should be framed properly.  Women have been coming out nationally for years (Martina Navratilova, Billie Jean King, and Sheryl Swoopes to name a few) but it is only the men that have drawn such national media attention.  Playing sports is largely (and incorrectly) considered a masculine venture.  One of the stigmas associated with being gay is that somehow homosexual men are less than, because of their sexual orientation.  I hate to overdo what sports can do for people.  I hesitate to say that baseball healed a nation after the Yankees made a run to the World Series following the tragic events of September 11.  No amount of runs scored will give thousands of families their loved ones back.  But for issues such as the one presently presented with Sam’s announcement, maybe it can dead a ridiculous school of thought relating to the toughness of a man based on who he loves.

The story may be the most important for homosexual adolescents (especially boys) who may fight the stigma of being gay and too “soft” to play sports.  In the country’s most violent and tough game, stands an SEC co-defensive player-of-the-year competitor who came out to his team this past august, and was accepted.  Surely this story of athletes coming out to their respective teammates will be one repeated more and more frequently in the coming months and years. Eventually it will become so commonplace that it won’t scroll at the bottom of the screen and an alert won’t be sent to your phone; in the interim, pretending we have reached that point rings untrue.   

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Boom. Bang. Pop. Crack.

Insert your favorite comic book onomatopoeia; all of them were in play in Seattle’s defensive backfield.  I knew the pash rush on Peyton Manning would be important, and it was.  The defensive line pressured and hit Manning, forcing him off his spot and threw off the timing of those Denver precision routes.  But the physicality exerted by the Legion of Boom (an appropriate title if there ever was one) was diabolically painful.  The secondary became villainous as hit after hit compiled to permanently etch a grimace on my face.
I commented during the game that Denver hadn't been hit like this all year.  The pop of the pads was obvious all game, what was perhaps less obvious was the way the receivers responded after each hit.  The Denver receivers looked physically shocked, and it became obvious when they began to put balls on the ground on relatively mundane hits/plays.

The comment about previous competition for the Broncos got me to thinking, “why don’t we look at strength of schedule for the Super Bowl, like we look at it for the National Championship in college football?” If Auburn had smoked Florida State this year like Seattle murked Denver, the chants of “S-E-C” would still be echoing.  Every year pundits describe the competition each college team has faced all year; usually, this involves detailed analysis of each team’s respective conference.  The fact that Denver played several below .500 teams and the Seahawks were arguably in the league’s toughest division never came up in the two weeks of pre-Super Bowl coverage. I understand that the tourney format (where teams play the best of their conference) changes the analysis a bit, but in the future I will at least glance at the competition the team has consistently faced in the games leading up to the final game.

It’s appropriate that I haven’t mentioned Russell Wilson’s name until the 4th paragraph. Has there been a QB as talented, efficient, and effective as Wilson who has received less publicity?
In essence, he is what people said that they loved about Tebow, isn’t he? He’s a devoutly religious, humble, talented player who “just wins” (28-9 as a starter) regardless of the personal stats and accolades.  Plus, he can actually play the position of the NFL QB.  It seems like he should be America’s darling. Wonder why isn’t as beloved…What’s more because of the paucity of his contract (he made $681,000 this year) and the CBA (he is unable to augment his current contract through his first three years) the Seahahwks will have enough cap room to re-sign players or go after new ones for next year.  People talk about the Seahawks and duplicating their blueprint; sure, go out and draft your starting QB and the league’s best corner on days two and three of the draft. Good luck with that.

Peyton Manning

So…now what? He’s won 1 of 3 Super Bowls and has a litany of accolades, so where does this place him in the pantheon of All-time great QBs? Surely his place is secure given that he just came off a record-setting  5th MVP season.  But once people get to the all-time best QBs, the splitting of hairs and the picking of nits will lead to the postseason record (most losses ever) and the recent Super Bowl losses.  Manning is one of my favorite QBs ever, but his shortcomings in big games cast a bit of a pall over his otherwise sterling career. It only seems unfair because it is.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What's up with UNC basketball?

Coach Roy WIlliams has had to do a lot more teaching with this young squad than he probably anticipated

This season has hurt.  I didn’t have high expectations this year.  I thought UNC would be solid, certainly not as good as Duke’s star-studded squad, but respectable.  I glanced at the schedule, games against Louisville, UK, and Michigan St. would surely be challenging, but I figured it would toughen up the team so that by the time ACC play started (and PJ Hairston came back) the Tar Heels would be fine. Fast-forward to three top five wins, some befuddling losses to the unranked Belmont and UAB, and PJ Hairston’s ineligibility and I’m already exhausted halfway through the college basketball year. The team has had its share of ups and downs and now it appears a thorough low point will be home base for UNC basketball.
Enough with the anguish, analytically what is the team missing?
1)      Shooting: I’ve never seen such a poor shooting team.  Outside of guard Marcus Paige, the team doesn’t have any decent shooters. They shoot 31% from 3, and are an abysmal 62% from the free throw line; shots that should be renamed for this team because they have cost UNC a couple of games already

2)      Player Development:  

·         Again, exclude Paige from this discussion. He’s on pace to lead the team in scoring and assists, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished since Phil Ford.
·         Isaiah Hicks has looked completely overwhelmed every time he has been in the game.  I heard about Hicks and his game awhile ago, which makes his current lackluster play all the more deflating.
·         Brice Johnson has shown plenty of potential with his length and athleticism.  Coach Roy Williams has been hesitant to play Johnson more than 20 minutes per game average (6th most on the team) he currently has.  The bench needs a scoring punch, but the starters could probably use a rim protector that they have been missing for the duration of the season.
Coach Williams Thought both these gentleman would still be playing in Chapel Hill this year

3)      Consistency:

·         If I were to describe the Tar Heel season in one word (instead of this meandering filibuster) I would be with “inconsistent”. In addition to beating three top 5 teams (an unmatched feat this year) they also recently handed Clemson a thorough beatdown at the Smith Center.  While they extended the longest win streak against one team at home in the country, they also managed to topple a team in Clemson that handed Duke a loss earlier in the season. 
Normally all of this would be a cause for celebration, but losses to several unranked teams and a 1-3 start in conference play has been befuddling.

If only this team had a fully developed player to rely on, especially for shooting accuracy; perhaps one currently in the D-League. The shortest distance between two points is a straight line; in this case, UNC is exactly a PJ away from being a national contender. I’m so confused as to the future of my favorite team, recent wins over Clemson and Georgia Tech give me hope.  It’s apropos that this post is so disjointed; hopefully the season will end with a bigger bang than this article.