Saturday, July 21, 2007

Our illustrious time in sports

My cynical view...

In light of recent events in professional sports, I wanted to make a few observations on this age in the pros. Over the last 25 years athletics have undergone a series of changes due to a number of things - chemistry, media, money, new workout techniques, a greater awareness of the international market have all contributed a golden age in revenue but in all other respects, what has been created is the asterisk age.

In baseball, the writers and San Francisco Giants fans are anxiously waiting for the biggest fraud since the 1919 White Sox to break one of the games most hallowed records. Sure, the man with a reputation amongst teammates for not even eating in restaurants because he wanted to know what everything was that was going into his body, claimed to not know what he was ingesting - but still admitted to juicing. But the baseball writers expect us to celebrate this feat of aided home runs? The man should be banned from the game.

Basketball for years has faced allegations that its referees control playoff games in order to create the best "ratings" match-ups in order to increase television and advertising revenue. Now it comes out that one of their veteran officials has been implicated in a gambling ring, and may have been involved in fixing games.

That's only part of the problem with basketball which continues to have problems with high-profile players like Ron Artest and Allen Iverson who have had recent run-ins with the law.

Speaking of legal, this might have been the worst off-season in the history of the NFL, and certainly the worst since the 2000 which included Ray Lewis' murder trial and the implication of now convict, then Panthers wide out Rae Carruth in the murder of his pregnant girlfriend. In spite of the fact that the arrest rate for NFL players is lower than that of the general public, the NFL has taken some major hits.

Since New Years alone, three players have died - Denver corner Darrent Williams was shot, Bronco running back Damien Nash's heart gave out on him, and Patriots defensive lineman Marquise Hill drowned - three have been suspended for repeated run-ins with the law - Titan Pacman Jones, Bengal Chris Henry, and former Bear Tank Johnson. Add on top of that two Raiders suspended for violating the steroid policy, three Dolphins with legal run-ins of their own, and the coup-de-gras - Michael Vick's federal indictment on dogfighting charges - the NFL might be weathering more trouble than any of the other leagues this year.

That's the big three. But it doesn't stop there...

Golf, on top of the fact that the golfing press and the men's and women's tours continue to promote a young female golf prodigy who has accomplished exactly jack-squat and appears to be digressing, the sport is now facing steroid allegations.

Bicycling's most prestigious event has been marred in recent years by mass doping allegations and what has appeared to be an almost vindictive, witch-hunt like approach to rooting out the cheaters. In its earnestness to catch those who cheat, the governing body of the cycling federation has made horrible mistakes and mismanaged everything from the handling of the samples, to the announcement of the results - often casting their own findings in doubt.

Hockey has mismanaged a sport that was once one of the "big four" along with basketball, baseball, and football, into something that competes in the television ratings with things like the National Spelling Bee Championship, the Nathan' s Hot Dog Eating Contest, and, on a bad day for the following, golf.

And in a way, the smallest problem in professional sports in America lies with soccer. Ideally a sport in a given country would have a homegrown hero. Soccer has had to resort to importing the biggest name in the world - the British born David Beckham. Not quite the scandal that the other sports seem to face, but still a problem.

That's my rant...I'm sure I could have spent more time and talked about things like the disparity between the small and large market teams in baseball, Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, the marketing of Kobe Bryant and his illustrious past, any one of a number of other football players, the proliferation of doping issues in track and field, and the decline of tennis in America and god knows what else if I weren't just doing this off the top of my head. But this, I think, is enough to know - We're in no golden age.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The number 95 and other thoughts produced by the two cells that are left...

There are a lot of things that Michael Vick should be worried about in this case -

He should worry about the sheer amount of details in the indictment that include where and when dogs were purchased, the actual amounts bet on fights, locations of the fights, and the fact that there are at least four witnesses for the prosecution listed in the indictment.

He should worry that his cousin who was so ready to take the fall for him a month ago, even going so far as to have a press conference during which he admitted culpability and denied Vick has any knowledge, appears nowhere in the indictment.

He should worry about the timing and the fact that the Federal court in Richmond is known as the fastest in the country at pushing cases through the courtroom.

He should worry about the fact that it's the federal judiciary rather than some local like Mike Nifong who was incompetent or Surry County District Attorney Gerald Poindexter who was dragging his feet on the investigation, and likely to let it drop.

Most of all he should worry about the number 95. That's the percentage of criminal cases in federal court which result in a conviction. There are a number of other people who have a lot more money than Vick who are now behind bars after being dragged into the federal judiciary. Anyone remember Enron and their brain trust?

There are claims of racism already appearing in some quarters, others are alleging that it's because Vick's a celebrity, however, I put it to you, ask the average - and I emphasize AVERAGE - Michael Vick fan from a predominantly black community in Georgia to tell you who Ken Lay was...I give an outside chance at best that the individual will know who that was and that he was nailed by the feds.

Also, if this had been some white guy, Samoan, or even black guy who was a back-up lineman making league minimum with the Falcons, I guarantee he would be cut already. If anything, I would say that Vick's celebrity has thus far protected him as anyone of his previous transgressions - the water bottle, flipping off the fans, smoking the roach on the girlfriend's MySpace page - would have gotten a bottom of the roster player cut.

Baseball writers need to...

Get off the Bud Selig's back about attending Barry Bonds perversion of baseball's biggest record. I am no Bud Selig fan, but this constant whining from the writers - particularly the ones at ESPN - needs to stop.

Selig does not need to be there - get over it.

The vast majority of writers turned as blind an eye to the problem as any of the owners - at whom the writers point their fingers, seldom lumping themselves in as culpable. Now they seem to be beating on Selig as though making him the bad guy in all this gives them a pass on "celebrating the record" as it should paraphrase ESPN's Buster Olney. Olney is among those that think it would be a travesty for Selig to not be there, because it would belittle the breaking of the record.

His argument is that it seems as though Bonds has become the scapegoat for the entire era and that people have forgotten that Bonds was not the only one on the juice, and that's not fair.

Nobody has forgotten that others were juicing - Sammy Sosa, Mark McGuire, and Rafael Palmiero are still talked about regularly. There are still whispers of why Pudge Rodriguez got a lot less pudgy when the testing was instituted and why Roger Clemens, after three years of decline in his 30's, suddenly seemed to be 25 again...after being on a Red Sox team with Jose Canseco

It feels to me like the baseball press is trying to make Selig the bad guy in this just so they can make themselves feel better about covering this travesty. The man has cheated the game and the its fans and the writers will once again be culpable in the sham that will be the home-run record.

I guess there are those that learn history and are doomed to repeat it anyway.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

NFL Questions: AFC North

For the last couple of years this division was supposed to be a powerhouse on the verge - the Browns got defensive guru and Bill Belichick disciple Romeo Crennel to run the show and a collection of exciting young players, the Steelers and Ravens were models of consistency, and the Bengals were on the rise. With retirements, age, and other issues that have surfaced, it's now a division with a lot of questions...

Baltimore Ravens - Does Steve McNair have enough in the tank to get this team to the playoffs? Honestly, watching the way McNair ran down at the end of the season, I don't think the question is about Super Bowl chances - I don't think that can even be discussed with this team until they make the post season and McNair shows some life. None of the other questions about this team matter if McNair can't get the job done.

Cincinnati Bengals - There are so many questions here, mostly having to do with suspensions (see Odell Thurman, Chris Henry), but the team proved they could weather those distractions for at least one season, so it stands to reason that they could do it for another (although it could catch up to them). No, the big question here is whether or not they can stop the run.

Like the Indianapolis Colts last year, the Bengals gave up big yardage on the ground. Unlike the Colts, the Bengals couldn't overcome that - nor did they have the player that could come in, when healthy, and stop the run. If they can force teams into shoot-outs and take away the other team's ability to grind out a lead, this could be a big year for them. Otherwise, expect more of the same.

Cleveland Browns - So many questions, but of greatest significance to the Browns - Who's the leader? Charlie Frye, Brady Quinn? Whoever the brain-trust decides is the leader will go a long way to determining whether Romeo Crennel continues as a head coach, or if he returns to a coordinator roll. Either way, Crennel had best hope that the left tackle the team drafted is the dominant left-tackle they're projecting him to be. Otherwise, he better have the resumes ready.

Pittsburgh Steelers - Following their win in one of the worst Super Bowl games ever in regards to the quality of football played, the Steelers picked up where they left off - playing bad football. The first question that pops to mind is whether or not Big Ben can carry the load, but I think the important question is how does a veteran locker room respond when ownership passes on the player's choice for head coach? Steelers players, it was reported, were hoping that one of the incumbent coordinators with whom they were familiar would be offered the job. Instead, it went to Mike Tomlin - a relative youngster in his thirties with a penchant for the 4-3. The Steelers run a 3-4, have for years, and that's the type of personnel that Pittsburgh currently has.

Can they play his brand of football, and, more importantly, are they willing?

Dry rot in Flowery Branch

I touched on this a little bit last night.

Michael Vick has been indicted on Federal charges related to the dogfighting investigation. The charges include conspiracy and transportation across state lines in addition to the dogfighting charges. The conspiracy charge in particular has to be troubling to Vick's lawyers as Vick's defense has been that he was never at the property.

Under the federal conspiracy statute, he doesn't have to be directly involved. As long as he has been facilitating the operation, he's got problems - and it's one of the few charges where proving that link is made considerably easier for the government.

Additionally, this isn't the incompetent Surry County prosecutor they're going against. And the federal prosecutor's office already has close to half a dozen witnesses that put him not just at the fights, but as a major player in the dogfighting underworld.

Some of the reports say that Vick could be in court as early as the middle of November.

Reaction from league offices has been...less than satisfactory given their reactions to other repeat offenders (and make no mistake, someone who is on his girlfriend's myspace page smoking a joint, and later gets in trouble at an airport over a water bottle with a secret compartment before getting indicted by a federal grand jury is a repeat offender). For many, particularly animal rights activists, the wait and see approach being favored by the league at the moment is not going to fly. According to a report this morning by Steve Wyche in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

"We are disappointed that Michael Vick has put himself in a position where
a federal grand jury has returned an indictment against him," NFL spokesman
Brian McCarthy said in a statement. "We will continue to closely monitor
developments in this case, and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.

"The activities alleged are cruel, degrading and illegal. Michael Vick's guilt has not yet been proven, and we believe that all concerned should allow the legal process to determine the facts. The matter will be reviewed under the League's Personal Conduct Policy."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for the season for repeated run-ins with the law. Chicago Bears defensive lineman Tank Johnson, who was cut by the team recently, was suspended for eight games, for his legal problems. So was Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry.

Though the strengthening of the player code of conduct was aimed to punish repeat offenders, Goodell could suspend a player on a first offense and has warned Vick as much.

Goodell, who took over as commissioner in 2006, met with Vick in late April, shortly after police raided a property Vick owns in Surry County, Va., and found evidence of dogfighting. At that time, Vick told Goodell that he was not involved in dogfighting. Vick also said as much publicly then, in his only statements on the issue.
If the facts prove that Vick was not honest with Goodell, that could factor into any punishment levied.

Blank also met with Vick in early May and in a "stern" conversation. Blank said the
talk was mostly one-sided but that he would trust and believe in Vick unless proven otherwise.

Part of the new player conduct policy deals with teams facing possible sanctions for not holding players accountable for negative behavior. That facet of the policy could prompt the Falcons to take proactive measures.

If the 27-year old quarterback does get suspended this season, and then convicted of the charges he faces - he could lose up to seven years of his NFL career to the dogfighting, effectively ending his tenure in the NFL. Personally, I believe that if he even had an inkling this was happening on his property (and I honestly believe he more than just had an inkling), Vick needs to be, I'd say thrown to the dogs, but I really don't think I should make a joke about this.

On a related note, what do you think Clinton Portis would say now?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Roger Goodell's gonna need shackles and a cattle prod before this is all over...

A banner day for the NFL -

Pacman Jones is trying to work out with the Titans (I'm sure Bud Adams is thrilled), franchised malcontents Lance Briggs and Asante Samuel failed to agree to contract terms with their respective teams, and now what every blogger has been waiting for - Michael Vick has been indicted on federal charges.

With an indictment now hanging over the head of the "league's most exciting player," Goodell will be forced to act. He cannot stand idly by when one of the league's most over-rated star players faces federal charges when he has handed out a one-year suspension to Jones who has had multiple run-ins with the police, but no convictions...and no federal indictments.

How Goodell handles this will send very clear signals to the press and to the NFL-fandom about who he really is. It's one thing to suspend a cornerback, a number three receiver, and a defensive tackle. It's another thing altogether to nail one of the league poster-boys to the proverbial wall.

Of course, in light of Vick's last year, Goodell might very well be happy to serve notice that being a poster boy is not...shall we say, a right for the highly talented. This might become the single most interesting decision to come out of league offices during the Comish's brief tenure.

Thanks Don Pardo, now tell us what he won....

Asante Samuel - a chance to put his lack of money where his mouth is. Yesterday was Samuel's final chance to come to a long-term deal with the Patriots. Failure to do so means that Samuel and the Patriots cannot come to a long-term deal until after the 2007 season.

The sticking point - Samuel wanted Nate Clements San Fran money through the first three years of the deal. The Patriots offered, based on the contracts of Dre Bly and Nathan Vasher, fair market value for a corner of Samuel's career numbers.

To put it in a nutshell - Samuel wanted the Patriots to do something idiotic, the Patriots said no.

Now we get to see if Samuel will really hold out and lose a fair chunk of $7.79 million, or if he will make the business savvy decision and get his butt into camp and play out the season (keeping in mind that last year has been the only year that Samuel remained healthy through a full season - likely another of the Patriots' sticking points).

Kason Gabbard - Three wins in three decisions and five starts (four in place of the injured Curt Schilling) and a chance for a longer look from the big league club for the Red Sox rookie. Gabbard is currently 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA and averaging just under six innings per start. Opponents are batting an anemic .206 against him right now.

The man whose seat Gabbard is keeping warm - 4.20 ERA and batters are hitting at a .288 clip through 15 starts.

Baltimore/Washington Eagles - Higher expectations. Winners of Division II at the Nationals in Las Vegas last year, the Australian football club has started off 3-0 with two wins against the North Carolina Tigers and the Boston Demons, both Division I teams last year. The hot start has seen the Eagles rising in the polls to number five.

With a match looming at the end of August, when the team comes off its summer break, against Eastern powerhouse and the third ranked New York Magpies, the Eagles have their work cut out for them.

L.A. Galaxy - A lingering ankle injury. Giving the term "Bend it like Beckham" a different meaning, the British soccer star's injured ankle is likely to delay the premier of the $250 million man. Not exactly the auspicious start that American soccer fans had hoped for.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Instant karma's gonna get you...

The city that booed Santa Claus finally set the record they were destined to set.

Six times since 1920, the Philadelphia Phillies have had a winning percentage below .300 in a season. Of the 23 teams in the history of Major League Baseball with a winning percentage below .300 - Philadelphia has hosted nine of them (Athletics - 1915 - 43 wins, 1916 - 36, 1919 - 36, and the Phillies - 1928 - 43, 1938 - 45, 1939 - 45, 1941 - 43, 1942 - 42, 1945 - 46). Even accounting for a .300 season, the fightin' Phils had seasons like 1961 in which they won only 47 and 1972 when pitcher Steve Carlton had 27 of the team's 59 wins.

For all of Chicago's baseball woes, not a single Cubs team appears on the list, and the only Cleveland team to make the list is the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. As a matter of fact, no team other than the Phillies makes the list more than three times, and no other city more than four.

Sure, the team has won pennants, but last night the Phillies set the record they were destined to set this season. The Philadelphia Phillies are officially the first professional sports franchise to 10,000 losses. Truly a testament to the hard-ball futility of the City of Brotherly Love throughout the years.

On the bright side, Philadelphia is currently sporting a winning record at 46-45, albeit just barely, and are only five games behind the East-leading Mets.

As a Red Sox fan whose parents are originally from Philadelphia, I was always able to look back on some of the Phillies history in order to get some perspective on my beloved Sawx.

Right now, I think 10,000 says it all.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Back off, man

According to a report that hit the Boston papers this weekend, sources close to Asante Samuel say the corner-back is unlikely to go through with his threat to sit out the season.

I think this is called, in the parlance, "blinking first."

According to this source, it has "occurred" to Samuel, that he would be better able to showcase his abilities over the course of a full season...and would be more likely to avoid a catastrophic injury by being in "game shape." This reasoning all seems quite familiar to me.

Of course, this also means that, with this source close to him going public, his source has destroyed any of what little negotiating leverage Samuel may have had with a hold-out - which I still think was none at all.

Hubris and David McDade -

Anyone who reads my blog knows I have been posting here about the travesty that is the Genarlow Wilson case in Georgia - the then 17-year old convicted of child-molestation and serving ten-years for receiving a blow-job, freely given, from a then 15-year old at a party. Recently an appeals judge ruled that the punishment didn't fit the...crime, for lack of a better word (and I refuse to call our society setting an arbitrary age at which a person can legally consent to sex a crime).

The judge, in essence, changed the ruling to a misdemeanor and granted Wilson time served. For more details, see my other posts on Wilson - there are several.

Douglas County District Attorney David McDade, the DA who originally prosecuted Wilson, has appealed the ruling. Until the appeal is hear and ruled upon, Wilson will continue to languish in jail.

McDade is making no friends with Georgia law-makers according to a recent article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. His philosophy seems to be all or nothing, and that the law should have no gray area. It might just be me - but it strikes me that that philosophy is about to bite him on the ass based on the following passages from the AJC:

Douglas County District Attorney David McDade violated federal law when he distributed a videotape from a rape and child molestation case to legislators and journalists, the U.S. Attorney in Atlanta said Wednesday.

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said in a statement that federal law prohibits the distribution of the Genarlow Wilson videotape because it depicts minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct. He warned that people who had received it would be in violation of federal child pornography laws

Federal law prohibits the distribution, receipt and possession of child pornography in most circumstances, Nahmias said...

McDade told the Associated Press that he was required to release the tape under the state's Open Records Act because it was introduced as evidence at the trial.

Nahmias, though, said federal law trumps any contrary requirement of the open records law.

Nahmias said that his office issued the statement to end further distribution of the videotape and advised those who possessed it to destroy or return it. His office, under federal policy, would neither confirm nor deny whether it was investigating the distribution.

State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) has called for an investigation to determine whether McDade violated federal law in distributing the videotape in response to requests under the open records law.

On Tuesday, Jones characterized the videotape as child pornography and called it "an absolute, utter disgrace" that a videotape of the raunchy party in a Douglasville hotel room that led to the conviction of Wilson on aggravated child molestation charges has been given to reporters and legislators.

Now, it might just be me, but - if you're a lawyer, isn't it just common sense that you wouldn't be able to distribute any sort of visual recording of teenagers having sex? No matter what the public access laws are? I mean, even I knew this dude was in trouble when I heard that the tape had been distributed based on public requests. Also, does it sound like the legislator wants to put the screws to McDade, the way McDade has been to Wilson? This isn't just an investigation. He's calling for the DA to be investigated for distribution of child pornography.

As the DA has supplied tapes to news outlets outside of Georgia, we're talking federal investigation and a sentence of at least 21 months, possibly longer, from the federal statutes that I have found. Once again, maybe it's me, but it seems to me that the legislator, in his own subtle way, is telling McDade to back-off.