Tiger In Top Form

February 26, 2009

452723832The sun is shining on golf again.  Tiger Woods is back swinging for real.  He is competing for the first time since his now legendary win in the US Open last summer.   That stunning victory, in America’s most important tournament came as he played with a torn ACL in his knee and fractured bones in his leg.  No one who watched him last June will likely forget how he literally limped around the golf course in obviously excruciating pain and still willed himself to win.

Golf fans like my buddy Alan who writes The Sporting Life from the nation’s bad news capital of Detroit, are celebrating Tiger’s return like they would a new infusion of cash at General Motors.   That kind of excitement is justified.  There is no bigger deal in golf than Tiger Woods.

Despite an eight-month recovery from his injuries, Tiger said yesterday that he “felt like nothing had changed.”  Adding that “it was business as usual.”   The results from day one of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship certainly bear that out.   Tiger easily tamed first-round opponent Brendan Jones three and two.  And it certainly looked like Tiger was no longer hurting.

Now that Tiger’s back in what appears to be top form, perhaps better than ever, how do you think his fellow golfers feel, knowing their chances of winning have diminished considerably?  Believe it or not actually I think they’re happy.  Not that they like losing of course.  But Tiger’s peers certainly understand that golf actually means something again.  The fact is when Tiger’s away most folks care less what happens each week.

Check it out for yourself.   No Tiger = lower ratings.  No Tiger = nervous sponsors.  No Tiger for too long = less money for everyone.  I can assure you that Tiger’s golf buddies know exactly who provides their bread and butter.

Will Tiger win the tournament? I’ll just say history suggests he has a better chance than anyone else.  The record book says he has 30 more career wins than his nearest rivals Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh.   And even if he doesn’t hold up the trophy on Sunday, yesterday’s return made it pretty obvious that it won’t be long before he does.


How Should Sports Answer the Question That Calhoun Dismissed?

February 25, 2009

The question touched a raw nerve.  Some argue that it was out of line and out of place at a basketball press conference.  Others are stunned that a non-journalist, activist, law school student did the asking.  How dare he?  Still more wonder why UConn basketball coach Jim Calhoun lost his cool and went ballistic.

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The question was essentially: Should Calhoun take a pay cut from his multi-million dollar salary as Connecticut’s highest paid government worker, while the state faces a huge budget shortfall during the nation’s worst economic crisis?

Calhoun, doing his best Bob Knight impersonation, answered by telling the “reporter”,  Ken Krayeske, to shut up, and then called him stupid.

A lot of folks in the sports world – including sports journalists – are blaming the messenger.   They say Ken Krayeske didn’t have the proper credentials and shouldn’t have been there in the first place.   Personally, I think that some reporters are angry that Krayeske showed them up, by asking a question they would never dare ask.  Calhoun argued that he brings in millions of dollars in revenue to the University of Connecticut, and won’t give “a dime back” from his salary.  And he has many supporters of this rationale, including journalists who wear the proper credentials.

So no, I don’t think the question is out of line at all.  And now that we’ve had a few days to see Calhoun’s response for ourselves and ponder even more, the reality of a what an economic downturn really means, the tide may be turning.  Yesterday, Connecticut’s governor called Calhoun’s nasty response to the question an “embarrassing display”.

The fact is Calhoun could have answered in a civil manner and acknowledged the seriousness of the times with respect and compassion.  After all Jim Calhoun is not being hurt by the economy, but many who support his team and pay for tickets and tuition are.  As a result he came off as arrogant and out-of-touch.

One thing for certain – the question will be asked again.  Maybe not to Calhoun, but to others in the sports universe.  Maybe it will be phrased like this: What are you willing to sacrifice while millions lose their jobs and others struggle to pay their mortgages?  How will those sports figures respond?  The global economic crisis now has Greg Norman suggesting that golfers take a cut in prize money.

Yes, sports are important, and they offer much needed diversions, escapes from sometimes harsh realities. Sports stars play a significant role in improving the quality of our lives.  But now its time for them to consider how they can do even more.   Sometimes more means taking less.


Barkley Going to Jail – I Still Like Him

February 24, 2009

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Its hard to dislike Charles Barkley.  He is refreshingly different from any other celebrity.  What makes him unique is that he never seems to be afraid to speak his mind.  He will say just about anything.  And say it usually without the typical PR/BS filter that most sports stars and entertainers employ.  Often what the man sometimes called Sir Charles says is powerfully insightful, with no worries about who he might offend or what endorsements he might lose.  Other times what he says can be foolish and stupid.  But I’ll take the occasional stupid stuff, because I’ve never gotten the impression that he was maliciously trying to hurt the targets of his barbs.  Most times Charles is funny and charming while speaking his truth.  Which is also unlike most celebrities. 

But not so funny is the fact that Charles will soon be serving time.  News outlets are reporting that Charles has now pleaded guilty to drunk-driving charges in Scottsdale, Arizona and will spend five days in jail, sometime next month.  Charles was driving drunk last December and had a blood alcohol level nearly double the legal limit.   Look, a DUI is no laughing matter.  The consequences of getting behind the wheel intoxicated can be deadly.  And while there was no accident and no one was injured, a man of Charles Barkley’s stature had to be taken down a peg, if only for the message that it sends.  The thing about Barkley is, he understands that.  When he was arrested and charged he immediately took responsibility for his mistake and agreed to a six week leave of absence from his TV job at TNT.   

Upon his return to the air the other day Barkley apologized by saying, “I think that a DUI is unacceptable.  That can’t happen and I’ve got to challenge other people, not just celebrities or jocks. You have to really think before getting behind the wheel after you’ve been drinking.”  That is the straight, no chaser, Charles Barkley.  Right now you can believe, that he believes, he is telling the truth. 

So yes, even with a DUI now on his record, along with all the other ”mistakes“ he’s admitted to, like multi-million dollar gambling losses, I am going to cut Chuck yet another break.  I will not judge Charles Barkley because I like him and I feel like I know him.  No, I’ve never met him.  But he’s nonetheless been part of my life for a long time.  Which in fact he has for more than 20 years.  He was the one-time fat-boy who overcame his weight to become one of the greatest basketball players in history.  I root for a guy like that.  A guy once known as the Round Mound of Rebound. I feel that way because Charles has never employed a filter, which allows us to see Him – even if we are uncomfortable with what we see.

I know some of you may call Charles Barkley a fool.  A fool who doesn’t deserve second, third and fourth chances.  And you may be right.  And yes, I know he is 45 years old and should know better.  But the way I see it Charles is like a lot of folks we actually know and care about in our own lives who’ve slipped up. Slipped up big time.  People who have disappointed us terribly.  People we know who are trying but could slip up again any minute.  Still you root for them anyway and pray for them to finally get it together.  Because when they are okay, when they are on their game, as Charles Barkley often is, they are capable of saying and doing some really remarkable things.  That’s why I will continue to root for Charles Barkley, pinstripes and all.


Goodbye Marvin

February 23, 2009

ph2006101701695_article1Peyton Manning to Marvin Harrison – touchdown.   Those words were said more times than any pitch and catch combination in NFL history.   The tandem of Manning and Harrison was largely responsible for the complete turnaround of the Indianapolis Colts franchise.   They moved the Colts from longtime losers to TV ratings darlings, helping the Colts become a team that would eventually win the Super Bowl.  But the end is near for the Harrison half of that combo.   There are reports that Harrison seeks release from the Colts after talks to restructure the $13 million remaining on his non-guaranteed contract broke down.  The NFL can be brutal to fading superstars.  Damaging to not only their bodies but to their egos.   

Right now Marvin Harrison feels like he can still play all-pro quality football.  And he feels he should be paid a superstar’s salary.  But his sagging productivity, his recent injuries, and his age just don’t support that, even though he now stands near the top of just about every career NFL pass receiving category.   

Further, the nearly reclusive Harrison was embroiled in a shooting incident last year in his hometown of Philadelphia.  And while authorities did not have the evidence to charge Harrison, the case is still unresolved.  Harrison has always denied that he fired the gun that injured another man.  But one piece of evidence is certain, Harrison is the owner of the gun. That incident further tarnished an image that had been largely built by relentless production on the football field.

If Harrison was younger, perhaps something could have been worked out. There might be a new signing bonus for the team’s all-time leading receiver, and maybe a reduced salary cap number for the Colts.  Then perhaps everyone is happy: the Colts get their man at a relatively bargain rate and Marvin’s pride stays intact. But Harrison turns 37 in August, which is very old for a wide receiver.  He’s also been hurt recently and the Colt’s know he’s not the same guy who has scored 128 touchdowns.   

What Harrison is though is an indelible part of the re-written history of the Indianapolis Colts.   And the Colts are trying to keep him around a few more years even at a reduced salary because of what he’s meant to the team for so many years.   But players who’ve accomplished as much as Marvin Harrison, usually don’t want the end to come on token terms, and often want all of the money they are owed or nothing at all.  For now it appears Marvin Harrison will likely leave the Colts with nothing.  That’s the way it is in the NFL.   Goodbye Marvin.


Frantic February

February 22, 2009

 

20087710932Frantic February is the time of year when college basketball teams start making their closing arguments for selection to the NCAA Tournament.  For sheer unpredictability, chaos, nail biting and whining there is nothing like the weeks leading up to March Madness.  

Every year it seems there is a surprising Cinderella.  The unexpected team from nowhere that makes a tantalizing trip through its conference, to the Sweet 16 and sometimes even the Final Four.   Each season a breakout star captures our imagination.  Sometimes its a guy with no shot at the NBA, but with everything it takes to lead his team to a college title.  Further you can count on several top coaches coyly downplaying their talented teams’ prospects, while we also hear others whine about an unfair selection process that kept their schools at home.  But that’s what makes this party great and this time of year incomparable.  

And its already beginning.  In the last week alone, number one U-Conn, which showcases pterodactyl-like center Hasheem Thabeet, gets manhandled by super aggressive Pittsburgh.   Oklahoma, which was poised to take over number one, gets knocked off by Texas when player of the year favorite Blake Griffin suffers a concussion.  And super talented number 3 ranked North Carolina, led by 3-time All America, Tyler Hansbrough is stunned by the over-achieving Terrapins from the University of Maryland.  This is a Maryland team that still might not make it to the NCAA tournament.  But at least now Maryland can make an argument.  That’s how it goes in February as the conference tournaments loom and March Madness beckons.  This is the point in the season when teams often make their most lasting impressions – for better and sometimes for worse.   

Let me close by making this admission – I’m an NBA guy.  I prefer the high quality, skilled basketball that the big boys in the “Association” play.   Still during the final weeks of February and the Madness of March – college basketball always earns my attention.  Unlike the NBA, everything is on the line each and every game.  And just one letdown means its over.  That’s what makes college basketball unique and Frantic February special.


Maybe It’s Best to Say Nothing

February 21, 2009

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Hindsight being what it is, it’s beginning to look like Alex Rodriguez should have told reporters to get lost rather than hold that press conference the other day.  From the moment A-Rod said his unnamed “cousin” helped him to procure and then inject “boli” as he called it, the floodgates of doubt opened up. Now it seems there may be an official call for A-Rod’s cousin to explain how he got the steroid for Rodriguez and how he might have smuggled the drugs from the Dominican Republic into the U.S. – if in fact that’s what actually happened.

Making things worse is that  A-Rod is now being linked to a personal trainer prominently mentioned in major league baseball’s Mitchell Report.

“Confessions” often raise more questions than they answer.  This is now the case with Alex Rodriguez.  And perhaps that’s why you probably will not see a long line of players who will admit to using performance enhancing drugs.  The fact is nothing  said by A-Rod  or others tainted by the PED scandal will likely ever satisfy a hungry press corps or fans who feel betrayed their heroes.

The problem with cleansing one’s soul – there is never enough soap.  To many of the fans, the media and other members of the public jury, these confessors will always be “dirty” in some way.   In his attempt to appear open, Rodriguez is beginning to look just like the liar many think he’s always been.  And right now he may be the best example of why  sometimes you’re better served when you say nothing at all.


In Praise of Danica Patrick

February 17, 2009


Its still almost two months before the season starts for one of my favorite sports – Indy Car racing. Like a lot of sports these days Indy Car faces a major challenge because of the economy. Despite the likely tough times ahead, its biggest star – Danica Patrick – seems to be shining brighter than ever.

Thanks to a nearly naked appearance in a Super Bowl commercial for her sponsor Go Daddy, and another barely dressed spread in Sports Illustrated’s just issued top-selling swimsuit edition, Danica Patrick’s 15 minutes of fame have now extended to four years. Clearly the fascination is not over with a cute little woman who will shamelessly flaunt her assets and then duke it out with the guys at 230 miles per hour. I’m not hating, and neither is Indy Car.

Ever since almost winning the Indianapolis 500 in 2005, Danica has had people talking about her and looking at her. And even though she has only won one race since then, she’s led in a number of others and is a threat to win week in and week out.

I’m an Indy Car purist who still remembers the good old days when Mario Andretti and AJ Foyt were the dominant drivers. Collectively those two men won nearly 120 Indy Car races – more than anyone in history. They were big-time winners who between them also won a lot of other renowned races, including the Daytona 500, the 24 hours of Le Mans, the Grand Prix of Monoco and I could go on and on.

But now I find myself appreciating Danica Patrick for reasons other than winning. I like that she isn’t trying to fool anyone. She obviously knows that until she wins more races her biggest assets remain her tight body and cute face. And she is marketing those assets all the way to the bank. That’s honesty. That’s America. And what’s wrong with that?

As a result, Danica is one of the few sports stars who can be identified by just one name, just like her predecessors, AJ and Mario. And even though she’s driven just a single victory lap, Danica is a legitimate challenger in the only major sport in America where women compete as equals against men. And that’s quite an accomplishment. Even if she has to take off most of her clothes to make the point.