Archive for the ‘Sports Illustrated’ Category

osuhelmetThere are both advantages and disadvantages to democracy, but the most favorable aspect that trumps all others is that, in its truest form, common people are represented in a way that allows them to influence the creation and application of law so that it reflects the generally accepted values of a society. Yes, this has and will continue to pose problems for minorities living in a society that doesn’t account for the comfort of others, but at the core of the democratic ideal is an allowance for social change and a protection against the elite hoarding power.

These are good things. However, we’re sometimes susceptible to trickery by the upholders of the status quo – who often have the most to lose through social change – exerting their influence to cause us to believe that certain values are more generally accepted than they actually are. This is frequently done on a political level, a cultural level and less seriously, on a sporting level.

In college sports, we’ve long been taught the virtue of amateurism. It’s a patently false virtue, originated by the high society organizers of the first Modern Olympic Games as a means of glorifying the accomplishments of the aristocratic athlete at the expense of the working class who required professional status as a means of paying for training. When we attach any amount of reason to the discussion around compensation for college athletes, it becomes abundantly clear that they should be paid for generating revenue for their school and risking their own ability to make future income by participating in athletic competitions where debilitating injury is always a possibility.

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espn-body-issue-gary-player_r640When the subject of sex is broached within the confines of sports, it’s usually followed by snickering. Our false sense of what comprises proper decorum combines with the remnants of fossilized puritanism to create a nervous laughter over the outlandish tally of contraceptives given to Olympic athletes or the reported abstinence of a national soccer team before a pivotal World Cup match.

We seldom discuss the obvious. The strange relationship that sports fans have with athletes – which combines pageantry, pedestals and vicariousness in an unholy trinity – grows more peculiar when we consider the overt voyeurism inherent to the role of sports spectator. We gain pleasure through watching toned muscles and tight flesh exhibit elite physical ability in unison and competition with others.

Fortunately, the typical heterosexual male can remain blissfully ignorant to this portion of his enjoyment thanks to the overcompensation of the generally accepted norms provided by scantily-clad cheerleaders, commercials reinforcing our manly love of Kate Upton’s breasts and the general masculine bro-ness associated with cheering on a sports team.

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Part of the appeal of the investigative report on Manti Te’o and the non-existence of Lennay Kekua that Deadspin published on January 16th was its lack of a conclusion. Yes, the wonderful research by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey left little doubt that a hoax had been perpetrated, most certainly on us, and possibly on Manti Te’o.  However, there was a sense of open sourcing to the story. Like a software developer more concerned with creating something useful than actually making money from the creation, Deadspin left possibilities open for readers to discover on their own. The website quoted someone who was “80 percent sure,” and left hints as to how those using social media might find more information through online searches.

In contrast, it’s been widely judged that ESPN, who was made aware of something fishy to do with Te’o's dead girlfriend a day before Deadspin, fumbled the story by attempting to land an interview with Te’o prior to publishing anything, and generally taking too long to track a story that took place largely through social media and online technology. However, even if they had been timelier with a report on Te’o and Kekua, I doubt that the story would have had the same appeal. I doubt that the story would’ve left room for ownership by anyone else other than ESPN.

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If we are to be judged, it’s likely best that we’re judged by the decisions that we make. However, some people’s decisions, and the process by which they make them, are a little more accessible than others. So, it makes sense that the decisions that these unfortunate people make receive a greater amount of scrutiny than what is typical.

The Toronto Maple Leafs fired General Manager Brian Burke this past week, and while the termination likely has to do with factors beyond the decisions that the head of the team made during his tenure in charge, such matters were only hinted at during a press conference on Saturday afternoon at the Air Canada Centre. There was a moment during the question and answer period though where it appeared as though Burke’s manicured and restrained response to his dismissal might break down. It came on a question from Paul Hendrick of Leafs TV. He asked, “How disappointing is it that you’re not going to be able to stay here and finish the job.”

Burke started with a stock answer, “Well, I think. I think you can make the case …” He paused. Looked away. Looked back at the reporter. “I think I can make the case that ….” Pause. He looked down. Silence. It promised to be a President Bartlett moment, but then, gathered and collected, he resumed, “I think that’s a case that I’ll let the media make.”

There was little doubt that in this moment, Burke’s honesty was being kept in check by either a sense of honor or desire to find another job. Both motivators would play a role in causing one to carefully consider one’s actions. He decided on the restrained approach. Moments later, Burke’s path along the high road took a slight detour.

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