Once more, we open up the fictional mail box to answer my own questions…
Q. What are your thoughts about the fact many sports fans reserve March to watch college basketball…but otherwise don’t engage with it?
A. I do understand the feeling out there the regular season is meaningless in light of the fact most of the same teams make the NCAA Tournament each year, the major conferences command almost all of the bids, etc. I also understand folks who have gotten fed up with the lack of fundamentals being displayed. College basketball can look gruesome at times with missed threes, missed frees, etc. That being said, I have always found it fascinating watching college teams get to know themselves as the year goes along and jell into the best they can collectively be. I also enjoy the home court advantages on display during the regular season – the rowdy, insane crowds that are shoved to the rear of the giant, cavernous stadiums most of March Madness takes place within. There is nothing like the college home team making a run late in the game in front of a frenzied, nutso audience.
Q. Speaking of college basketball, there has been a lot made about the Carrier Classic Game coming up tomorrow – Veterans Day – between Michigan State and North Carolina…played on the Carrier USS Carl Vinson. Thoughts about what appears to be an ever-increasing marriage between the military and sports?
A. I remember seeing Kellen Winslow II catch a pass for the Tampa Bay Bucs over the weekend…thinking how he got ripped all across the nation for his comments after his Miami Hurricanes lost to Tennessee in 2003 when he compared himself to a soldier…and football to a war. His apologetic statement included the line, “I cannot begin to imagine the magnitude of war or its consequences.” What has troubled me over the last decade or so is I don’t think many people care to…and in the end it was a joke for his references to require any apology. I find it confusing some of our biggest selling – and promoted – video games are war games. I wonder what Veterans think of them. Do they play video war games…after having lived through the reality of war? My father served in military conflict overseas and I have two uncles who had “highly classified” roles during their tours of duty. I am pro-military. I am not for mentioning the military at every sporting event, especially when our nation is now so very much divided about how it has been deployed over recent years. NASCAR. Every single week of their season, there are “tributes” to the military, fly overs before each race (am I paying for those?)…and especially their races on FOX’s Channel. You’d think you were watching the Military Channel. NFL games on FOX often have military-themed “honors.” ESPN takes opportunities throughout the year to “honor” the military…and in someone’s thinking there putting a basketball game on an aircraft carrier now serves a purpose on Veterans Day. President Obama will be in attendance. Why? If sports aren’t war at all, why is the military more and more a constant backdrop or mention during sporting events? Seeing all these military references only serves to remind us all we have had our people in harm’s way for far too many years now. I cannot imagine the magnitude of war or its consequences. So why is it when I sit down to watch a sporting event as an escape from the realities of military service I rarely can get away from a broadcaster “honoring” it…or a commercial sponsor glorifying and making a living off of it? If sports are so far removed from war, please remove the war from sports.
Q. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ryan Clark and Baltimore Ravens’ Ray Lewis both got fined heavily for hits they administered in Sunday night’s game. What do you think about the escalation of penalties and fines for what used to be acceptable behavior?
A. Football has become entertainment. Big-time entertainment. The NFL is one of those rare television shows that still gets big ratings and big ad dollars. The NFL wants to ensure all of their prime entertainers stay as healthy as possible. They also want to cover their collective ass in the event someone gets seriously hurt someday and do not want anyone to push back they haven’t been attentive to possible disaster as the players get bigger, stronger and faster. I don’t recognize football anymore. It is not the game I was raised on. Some of the fouls being called are clearly designed to try to alter the way players have always played the game. Some of the fines being levied are clearly designed to try to show all potential legal entities the league is sensitive to its violent nature. It is ironic the NFL is taking the violence out of the game since that is what made it so entertaining in the first place. The league became popular because of its gladiator mentality, not for being some helmeted version of rough-touch. The NFL knows it is now fining players for unavoidable hits. You can’t go at full-speed and hit someone under the “new rules” when they lower themselves into a vulnerable position prior to impact. They know the fines are stupid, they know the calls are stupid. It’s just that Commissioner Roger Goodell and his minions have incorrectly decided the best way to keep their sport supremely relevant is to overly protect its players from a potential injury…and its butt from a potential jury. At some point, the fines will be replaced by suspensions as the players get bolder in their hitting, both on and off the field…which simultaneously defeats the very purpose of keeping players healthy and on the field. Clark…after hearing of the fine for his hit on Ravens’ TE Ed Dickson, “So it’s going to turn into if you’re going to fine me $40,000, I might as well put him to sleep for real or I might as well blow his knee out.”
Q. You’ve been doing this blog for over half a year now after returning from a similar stint a few years back. What have you noticed in general about comments left on national web sites and blogs from sports fans from four years ago to today?
A. Sports fans seem angrier than ever. Many appear to be more interested in insulting and degrading others than rational discussions about sports. I am fascinated at the venom and crudeness I see on high-profile webs. I saw an article a short time ago noting a similar pattern on news web sites. There was an open-ended question as to why those news sites are not better monitored for editing responses…as those who do leave intelligent takes on issues are often torn to shreds after the fact by commenters more interested in taking on the prior commenter personally than what they left behind. Comment trails on news and sports web sites/blogs then often dissolve into primal attacks back and forth between commenters. Those who might have been interested in presenting a thought-provoking view don’t even bother…which then leaves the comment playground to the bitter bullies. In my first foray in blogging…as well as this second run, both have been hosted on WordPress. While I certainly don’t have the big numbers or audience I might have if I were to put this site “out there” with advertising, sponsorship, etc. I have repeatedly enjoyed intelligent, thoughtful responses. People have a lot to be angry about these days and very little of it has to do with sports. Sports is supposed to be an outlet for the troubles of everyday life…but I think more than ever fans are using forums to vent rather than converse. I’m fine where I’m at thank you…and thank you to all those who take the time to subscribe, read…and comment. I always try to return the favor.
Q. Final question has to do with the hometown Eagles…the word being tossed out to Head Coach Andy Reid and his players by the press and fans alike is “soft.” That’s a bad word for a football team to swallow, agreed?
A. You only need look at the Q & A above about hits in the NFL to see how “soft” plays in a locker room. Teams and players take great pride in being feared for their ability to hit you hard both on the field and the scoreboard. This squad has a lot of talented players…but some clearly are confused about what they are to be doing. The sad part is they usually find themselves with a fourth-quarter lead…but at -36 points in the final stanza, are the worst team in the NFL in that category. Teams come back to win. The Eagles step back to lose. They are 3-5, yet have 50 more first downs than the opposition. On offense, they don’t play “hard” in the red zone. On defense, they don’t play “hard” in the red zone. The red zone is a really, really important part of the field to do well. The Eagles are ranked 23rd in red zone offense…31st in red zone D. And that D…their secondary plays so far off receivers they don’t appear on your screen even if you have HiDef. The Eagles are “soft”…because they can’t push people around inside either 20…and they can’t finish games.