Happy Independence Day weekend.
Whether you are hurrying to the lake or beach, getting the grill ready for a Monday feast, or simply reveling in the leisure days of summer … treasure the freedom afforded to us by the old Stars and Stripes and all that the flag embodies.
Here are a few notes on the passing scene as we march toward the dog days of August and the start of the college football season.
Thank Goodness That’s Over
Aren’t you glad the first half of the sports year is over? The year started with Auburn winning a BCS national championship even though many in college football suspected the title to be tainted because of allegations surrounding Heisman winning quarterback Cameron Newton. Cam may or may not have made a sham of NCAA rules (the association needs little help in doing that), but his seedy case dampened enthusiasm for his electrifying performances. Expect any rules-breaker henceforth to impose the Cam defense – “I didn’t know.” He and the Tigers seemed to get away with something … and the NCAA as a whole didn’t come across as clean.
Of course, Newton’s follies were soon overshadowed by the hyprocisy seeping out of Columbus, Ohio. At the start of the 2010 football season, Ohio State’s Jim Tressel had as secure a grip on his job as any football coach in America. By late spring of 2011, he was found to be a phony and – if not an outright cheater – at least a person susceptible to whiplash from turning his head away from all the nefarious elements of his program. Terrelle Pryor, poster man-child of the spoiled and entitled modern college star athlete, and multiple other Buckeyes were found to have sold memorabilia to local “merchants” in exchange for money and gifts (if you call tattoos a gift). Tressel found out about the transactions but hid his knowledge for the better part of a year, scheming behind the scenes to keep Pryor and his co-conspirators eligible long enough for OSU to win the Sugar Bowl. An ensuing investigation found that Buckeye football players lease cars at a rate that would make Hertz or Avis proud – of course the school found no evidence of wrongdoing in these setups with local auto dealers. Tressel finally got shown the door, and if Ohio State has a shred of dignity, Athletic Director Gene Smith and college president Gordon Gee should soon follow.
The looniness was not confined to the playing fields. A nut in Alabama apparently poisoned trees on the Auburn campus in retribution for Auburn beating back the Tide in Tuscaloosa. Not only did the fellow pollute the ground, he also polluted the airways by calling into the popoular Paul Finebaum Birmingham-based radio program to brag about the impending death of the trees. Yikes.
At the professional level, the NFL sits astride the sports world with nary a legitimate challenge to the league’s popularity in sight. So … the owners and players cannot decide how to divide up the multiple billions of revenue pouring in and the sides are in the midst of a protracted lockout that threatens the 2011 season. Should the season be lost, I’ll have found a new standard of stupidity with which to lecture on to my students.
Not to be outdone, the NBA allowed the good vibes produced by a terrific post-season to last … oh, a week or two … before announcing their own labor stalemate. The basketball owners and players are so far apart their beef looks like Biggie vs. Tupac compared to the NFL’s tastes great-vs-less filling. Predictions from people with much more knowledge than me: the NFL plays a full slate while the NBA misses the entire season. In this economy that’s a real smart move guys.
All those sports issues are really superfluous compared to true natural catastrophes that struck Tuscaloosa, Joplin, and Sendai (Japan).
Let’s get to the second half of this year … please.
Hooray for Rory
The recent U.S. Open hinted that the second half of the sports calendar for 2011 might be worth the wait. Rory McIlroy cruised to an 8-shot victory with a flowing, flawless swing, a putting stroke that rocked back and forth as smooth as a front porch swing, and an affable demeanor that was both confident and modest. The win came in the aftermath of Rory’s final round meltdown at The Masters, making this triumph all the more impressive. With Tiger Woods shelved, Phil Mickelson aging, and no other clearly dominant golfers on the horizon, McIlroy could fill the void nicely.
My summer reading schedule has been slower than normal due to a fairly heavy class load, but I finally got around to reading George Dorhmann’s acclaimed Play Their Hearts Out. The book is terrific. Dohrmann spent the better part of a decade chronicling a group of elite level youth basketball players, and his portrait of them and the whole big-time AAU/travel squad basketball scene should make you cringe with anger and sadness. Coaches paying the parents of 10-12 year old “phenoms” so the children join certain teams (yes you read that right – 10-12 year olds), shoe companies paying coaches high salaries to go out and recruit these elementary and middle schoolers in hopes that one day the children grown into the next LeBron or Kobe and sign endorsement deals with the shoe companies, “coaches” who don’t know an X from an O (and don’t care) pressing and running up the score in order to build the credentials of star players while never teaching the children fundamental skills that would benefit them when they are no longer the biggest or strongest on the court, parents of less skilled players paying for their children to play on elite teams in hopes of landing a college scholarship at some point (not realizing that the thousands of dollars would be better used actually funding the child’s college tuition and fees) … it is truly a sickening system and Dohrmann exposes all of it. You should read the book (but keep your blood pressure medication handy).
Have a great 4th of July.