Life, economics, politics, psychology, sociology, racism and other isms, law, history, journalism/media…all through the lens of sport.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Straight Outta LA

I watched an ESPN 30/30 documentary Straight Outta LA, directed by Ice Cube that did an excellent job of putting the significance of the Los Angeles Raiders franchise history into the context of the economics, politics, entertainment and race relations going on in Los Angeles and area at the time.

Bias in baseball coverage

A few years ago I wrote to some news and sports organizations about the curious way the Toronto Blue Jays were covered in the media. It was very consistent that the "Blue Jays" was not mentioned in post-game recap headlines, nor were they top headlines after a particularly interesting game.

The Blue Jays might win 21-3 and yet some inconsequential Detroit Tigers/Kansas City Royals game made headlines. Or, the Blue Jays would win but the headline would be something like "Red Sox can't figure out Halladay" (they'd mention a player's name on the team, but not the team). If I saw the name "Blue Jays" in a headline, I pretty much knew why - they'd lost: "Yankees hammer Blue Jays 9-3."

Part of my frustration with this is that the Toronto Blue Jays are a legitimate major league franchise; they've won World Series championships (plural, while there are franchises south of the border yet to win one).

Further, Toronto is a legitimate sports town in North America, with a connection to baseball heritage: Babe Ruth hit his first home run as a professional in Toronto, but most sites mentioning this are Canadian-oriented; neither his Wikipedia article nor the official Babe Ruth site appear to mention this historic and significant fact, which is curious as it was the beginning of one of the most illustrious hitting careers in the game's history.

So, the Toronto Blue Jays franchise pays its franchise fees and doesn't get a discount, why should they get short-changed in media coverage? It wasn't right, and I wrote to whoever would hear me.

I don't know if that effort had any direct impact, but I can say that major league baseball has visibly improved this. It isn't perfect, but one nifty thing is each game has two recaps, one written from the "home perspective", and one written from the "visiting team perspective"; we can read both or whichever we prefer as an interpretation of how the game went. And, the Toronto Blue Jays do get a little more brand recognition than previously - I suppose I can't expect that they'll be treated on par with the average American franchise, but I'm quite prepared to say the media is doing a bit better at respecting that the players play just as hard as a member of the Blue Jays as any other player in any other city.

Bias, race and subjectivity in sports

One of the key reasons for this blog is to deal with the reality of race as it relates to how sports and its stories are covered, simply because it is consistently dismissed or ignored or left untouched out of fear, prejudice and the typical social biases that are just a part of human nature.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Russell vs Leaf - who's the biggest bust?

Some are arguing that JaMarcus Russell is the biggest bust ever. Some agree with me, that he isn't. This isn't to say he isn't a big bust. Sure he is, he's just not near Leaf-dom yet.

Look at who else was available that year (2007). When Russell was taken first overall, the next quarterback wasn't taken until 22nd. It's not as though Brady Quinn was such a standout that whoever didn't get the first shot would surely grab him second. Here's an article that covers it in more detail than I could.

No one can seriously suggest this is anything like the 1983 draft (Elway, Marino, Dickerson, Matthews...), you can't just close your eyes, swing a Nerf bat and swat Hall of Famers left and right in this draft. So, taking Russell wasn't a clear cut bust from the perspective that it's not as though there were a bunch of shining stars by-passed to take him.

After Peyton Manning, Leaf went 2nd, a much clearer "1 and 1a" scenario. Leaf went ahead of Charlie Batch, Brian Griese, and Matt Hasselbeck. Not exactly "Elway/Marino", but all serviceable quarterbacks, with some football pedigree (Griese) and Superbowl appearance potential (Hasselbeck) in their make up. As such, with other opportunities for San Diego, taking Leaf ended up being a lot less worth it than they could have been with other available quarterbacks.

Expectations for Leaf were high - some analysts suggested he stood a better chance for success in the NFL than some guy named Peyton Manning. Some said Indianapolis made the mistake in taking Manning ahead of Leaf. Did anyone, at any time, suggest Russell had that level of potential in him? Russell, in his draft, was more like "well, we've got to take someone" and he was about the best available QB. It took 21 other teams before one finally took a shot on Quinn. My respected and distinguished colleague, Big Mac, just posted that the recent turn of events was no surprise to him, he'd seen it from day 1 - clearly then, there's not a lot of disappointment here at all.

The other aspect in comparing these two is the manner in which these two players have melted down. Russell's issues are primarily taking their toll on himself personally. That lack of professional focus, the weight gain, there are obviously issues that he should address. But Ryan Leaf exploded outwardly and was just not a nice guy to be around, a far more cancerous agent in the dressing room.

And, statistically, Russell beats Leaf in almost every category. More wins, higher completion percentage, more yards, more touchdowns, half the interceptions, one quarter less fumbles. Here'sa decent rundown that also factors in their college careers, for what that's worth.

I must recognize, however, that Russell went #1 and Leaf #2. It's been demonstrated that Leaf could have been the #1 pick. However, comparing apples to apples, is there a #1 pick who performed worse than Russell? Here's a list - Lawrence Phillips jumps to my mind, but he did manage to last four years, one year longer than Russell.

The only other caveat here is that Russell has not yet retired. He could land elsewhere and revitalize his career, or at least slightly improve and end up a journeyman. Worse characters have had 2nd and 3rd chances in this league, that's for sure. Or, he could end up somewhere else and actually perform even worse - if his numbers dip to or below Leaf's, the rankings could change.

Anyway, as of this moment, I'm totally unconvinced that anyone - Russell or otherwise - is going to out-bust Ryan Leaf anytime soon.

One thing they have in common - both played for California teams. Ah, California, where a hockey team can win a Stanley Cup before they can figure out how to keep a football team in Los Angeles. What's up with that?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

My Mixed Bag Return - Big Mac's Thoughts on The Sporting World

I know my viewing public missed me. Clearly, they did. Haha.

After a few weeks of a mixture of work, more work, a newly developed problem of tendonitis in my right shoulder, and various other incidents that remind me of my natural 'joie de vivre', I have returned to discuss a few things.

Jamarcus Russell Release by the Oakland Raiders

I hate to say it.... but to basically everyone I spoke to for the first 72 hours after they chose him, I TOLD YOU SO!!!

I called this the day he put the hat on. The man is not a great quarterback. He is a great athlete - he can throw a ball very far, he is fast and big (though recently it's been the wrong kind of big, coming into training camp near 300 lbs), and I'm sure he could be very good playing another position.

As a quarterback though, this man was a train wreck. And I called it the first time I heard the man speak. For lack of a more eloquent term, he's dumb as rocks. A lamp post has both more character, more interesting things to say, and I'd largely believe a higher IQ. To be a quarterback in pro football, you don't need to be a Rhodes Scholar - I mean it's not like my boy Tom Brady is building a perpetual motion device or discovering cold fusion on the sidelines - but you certainly need to have a level of intellect and quick reaction time to make intelligent decisions in a small window of opportunity. Through JR's time in Cali, he couldn't do it. Now he's just another cast off, and perhaps the greatest 1st round bust of all time... though a very wealthy one, provided he didn't go spend it all on magic beans or something.

Some team will take a chance on him though. I have a strange feeling we could even see it be the Patriots, as painful as that would be. Want to really amuse me? Make it the Bills. It'll be like my birthday!

World Cup Fever... but is it a disease for Canadians?

I have been a fan of the World Cup since around 1998 when I first started cheering on France, my favourite team. Since then I have watched every Euro Cup, every World Cup, and over the past year and a half have started paying more attention to club teams in Europe (believe it or not, I even recently bought my first soccer video game!)

I have cheered for a multitude of teams, though always Les Bleus first and foremost. The reason being is that I speak the language, have been to the country and know a fair amount about it's history, and I have it in my blood (amongst many other nations). I have also cheered for Japan in respect for my brother in law, Argentina for my best friend, Uruguay for my best female friend, and Turkey for my wife. I have always thought that Canada is supposed to espouse it's multicultural fabric, or at least that's what we're told, so cheering for other nations should come somewhat naturally.

Ignorance, however, is the mold that grows from the bacteria of nationalism. Toronto is house to a multitude of nations, and in any World Cup game, there is a different part of the city cheering after a game, from Spain to Senegal, Italy to the Ivory Coast. I think that's fine - fill your boots! Cheer your hearts out!

Why, though, do people look at me like I have 3 heads when I wear my France jersey, or have my France flag flying out the window of my car?

I cannot count the number of times I've had people ask me "Are you from France?", to which I reply "No, but I have generations of my family who came from France. My great grandmother was of French descent." The usual reply I get to this is " you're not French then? How can you cheer for them then? Why don't you cheer for England?"

In my mind, this is indirect racism. The fact that I am a caucasian male who is past 1st generation Canadian, I automatically must cheer for England because I'm a white guy with an Anglo-Saxon last name. The funny thing is that I have precisely the same amount of German, Irish, French, and English blood flowing through my veins. I am also parts Norwegian and Scottish. Even when explaining this fact, people seem to think of me as 'not a real fan' or a 'bandwagon jumper', or even a 'poseur'.

This rule doesn't seem to apply to other cultures. Walk the streets of Little Italy, you will come across swarms of 2nd and 3rd generation Canadians who have never set foot on Italian soil, and don't speak the language, yet they are fully permitted to scream out "Forza Italia!" at free will, while proclaiming the superiority of their beloved Azzuri. No one will bat an eyelash. I have a friend whose great great grandfather was from the Ivory Coast, and she proudly flies the flag on her car. No one questions that either. Ditto the guy I know who is actually Indian, but he strangely looks Mediterranean, and he flies a Portugese flag on his car and heralds Christiano Ronaldo as the single greatest human walking the planet. Even those aware he doesn't hold heritage in those countries, he is totally fine to cheer for them, and no one raises an eyebrow.

Why is it that, in a culture where we are supposed to appreciate everyones background and the tapestry of their heritage, those whose complexion falls under the "caucasian" tab that we are not apparently permitted to cheer for a team other than the most general one available? Why are we only allowed to appreciate the cultural heritage of those deemed more exotic, or those who are greater in numbers? Some may argue this is not the case, but it is absolutely certain the majority think this way. World Cup is about an incredible tournament of a great game to watch, but what it is not supposed to be is an opportunity to boast superiority of one nation over another.

I could have sworn we were all Canadian in the end.

Losing On Purpose - Grant Whybark's Quest to devolve sports

For those who hadn't heard, a college golfer by the name of Grant Whybark who plays for St. Francis College in Illinois, decided that he would intentionally double-bogey a hole during the conference final tournament in order to allow a competitor by the name of Seth Doran to move forward to the national finals. Why would an athlete intentionally throw a game you ask?

Whybark basically stated that he knew Seth for a few years, and decided that he had earned his spot in the finals, and that because he was a 'good person', he spoke it over with his teammates and they were ok with him blowing the hole on purpose to allow his buddy to advance.

How disgusting is this? And how is this not being investigated by the NCAA?

This is no different than match fixing. Controlling the outcome of a game. No difference from this to shaving points in a basketball game, intentionally fumbling in the Rose Bowl, or walking a guy in a baseball game.

While Whybark was allowing his friend to move forward, there was another golfer in that tournament who was busting his butt to quality, and had his chance taken away by this raging idiot. How people can sit there and justify it is absolutely incredible - this isn't a bonevolent gesture, this is absolutely ridiculous.

That's all for now! Back later with more rants :)