Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Has It Been a Year Already?

This blog had its first birthday a week ago last Saturday. I hope you've enjoyed reading and found at least some posts of interest along the way.

Sometimes I feel I'm still trying to find my "voice" here, other times I've hit on something that is exactly what I hoped to do  (particularly the posts about Dick Winters and Jim Tracy). And I think my love of coaching and soccer came through in the two posts linked in this sentence. Please, let me know what you like and don't like, what you'd like to see more of or less of, as we head into our second season.

Here are some follow-up bits (in no particular order) to a few of this last year's posts that you might find interesting:

Rovers survived the drop, winning on the final day of the season to cement their place in the Premier League for another year. You can read about the final match here. Oh, and both West Ham and Birmingham were relegated (pity).

The Red Rose of Lancaster on Rovers' badge

FIFA President Sepp Blatter, facing opposition in his reelection bid, has promised to have an "investigation" of or "discussion" with a former employee of Qatar's successful World Cup 2022 bid who has claimed to know of at least two FIFA executive committee members who were paid $1.5 million bribes for their pro-Qatar votes. Say it ain't so Sepp! Apparently Blatter does not perceive a distinction between a discussion and an investigation . . .

The New York Times ran an fascinating article on the genius of Lionel Messi this past Sunday. Check out the piece, then watch Messi and his Barca pals take on Manchester United this Saturday in the UEFA Champions' League Final at Wembley.

Messi airborne against Real Madrid

Bob Bradley announced the U.S. roster for the Gold Cup this summer. Jermaine Jones was named in the squad, but not Teal Bunbury.

Finally, Champion (a sporting goods company) cancelled Rashard Mendenhall's endorsement contract with them because of his Bin Laden tweet. In a statement announcing the decision, Champion concluded that it did not believe that Mendenhall could "appropriately represent Champion" due to some of the comments in the tweet. The free speech advocate in me has no problem with Champion deciding it doesn't want to pay Mendenhall endorse its products. The lawyer in me, though, wonders what the contract language was that Champion relied on in making the decision and whether it was a "morals" clause or if Champion just had the unilateral right to cancel for any reason it deemed appropriate.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Other Major Fringe Sport

The Red Wings are gone, but my illicit affair with hockey continues.

I admit that I am at best a casual hockey fan these days. During the regular season, I don't go looking for televised games (mostly because I rarely surf past "Versus") and even if I find a game I don't watch unless my Red Wings happen to be playing.

While I grew up in Michigan, I never was a hockey player. I can't skate worth a darn, which is a major drawback. My brother and some friends would occasionally push a ball or puck (I think we had a few at some point) along a frozen pond, but not much more.

Still, I was a hockey fan, and particularly a Red Wings fan. I would watch the grainy"Hockey Night in Canada" coverage courtesy of CKLW in Windsor and follow the results in the sports section. Gordie Howe was still a Red Wing and Alex Delvecchio was my hockey hero (along with non-Wings Bobby Hull and Bobby Orr). Those Wings weren't particularly good (I can remember only one, brief, playoff appearance in the early to mid-'70's), but they were still my team.

Much to my delight, the Wings have become the New York Yankees of the NHL over the last decade and a half, winning four of the last 15 Stanley Cups, most recently in 2008. Through shrewd drafting and splashy (for hockey) free agent signings, they have built as close to a dynasty as you can get in hockey, where few players stay with one team for more than a few seasons.

These days I don't pay much attention to professional hockey until the playoffs start, or it's the Winter Olympics. But I should. Hockey is good television sport (better, at least, than the favorite sport of my youth, baseball) and a fantastic sport to watch in person. It has its own unique sounds (smacking sticks on the ice to call for a puck; dueling sticks digging in the corner for a puck; the "PING!" of the puck hitting the post or crossbar), its own lexicon (grinder; goon; blocker; butterfly -- and that's only two of 26 letters . . . ) and its own smells (sweaty gloves and rotting octopi).

Best of all, it is a team sport where doing the "little things" matters to whether a team will win or not. Sure, there are glamour players today as there were 30 years ago, but having one, or even several, doesn't guarantee success. Even the Edmonton Oilers of Wayne Gretzky needed defensemen, defensive forwards, and a great goaltender to be a great team. In contrast to the NBA, where a coach can be criticized for benching a "superstar" even when his team wins, on the road, in the conference finals, the NHL is all about team, not player.

More than any sport other than perhaps lacrosse, hockey also reminds me of soccer in that spacing between players, and being able to take advantage of the space, is crucial to a good offense just as closing down that space and cutting off passing lanes is crucial to a good defense. That and, for one game and even an entire playoff series, the more talented team doesn't always win. The roll of the puck, the hot goaltender, the fringe player who somehow finds himself scoring a hat trick, are all variables that can affect a game or series.

So, go ahead, watch Labron and Dwyane and Dirk and Kobe (heh, heh, okay, not Kobe) in the next few weeks. But take some time to watch Martin and Tim and Joe too. I guarantee you'll learn more about teamwork and the importance of team, not to mention good fortune, watching that puck skitter across the ice.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Patriotic Correctness Run Amok

One of the Cardinal Rules of Blogging, I was told, is that you should never, ever blog about politics (unless, of course, it's a political blog) or religion (unless, of course, it's a religious blog), lest you risk offending portions of your audience.

It appears that I am about to kill two cardinals with one stone.

The self-righteous outrage over Rashard Mendenhall's reaction to the celebrations of Osama Bin Laden's death has pushed me over the edge.

According to ESPN, Mendenhall tweeted (in part) shortly after news of Bin Laden's death was announced: "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they have never even heard speak. We've only heard one side... I believe in God. I believe we're ALL his children. And I believe HE is the ONE and ONLY judge. Those who judge others, will also be judged themselves. For those of you who said you want to see Bin Laden burn ... I ask how would God feel about your heart?"

Mendenhall's tweets set off a storm of controversy that ultimately led the Steelers' team President Art Rooney II (the son of Dan Rooney, former Steelers' President, noted Democratic benefactor, and now Ambassador to Ireland) to issue the following statement: "I have not spoken with Rashard, so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments. The entire Steelers organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon."

I do not agree with all of Mendenhall's thoughts (particularly the "we'll never know what really happened" comment about the World Trade Center attacks), but it isn't very difficult to "explain or even comprehend what he meant" by most of his tweet. He was disturbed by the jingoistic bacchanalia related to news of Bin Laden's death.

In this day of Patriotic Correctness, however, freedom of expression is not a two-way street.

Nothing in Mendenhall's tweets, at least what I've read or seen, questioned our troops, the "job [they've] done," or whether he wants our troops to come home (as one can assume from the context he does). His target was the revelers, not the cause of the revelry. And his religious references might just make one think he has a point, both about the celebration of another's demise as well as whether anyone should cast the first stone.

The reaction to Mendenhall's comments, particularly by the Steelers, called to my mind the incessant American flag lapel pin criticism of President Obama. The Patriotically Correct, you'll surely recall, highlighted then candidate Obama's failure to wear a flag lapel pin, fashionable since 9/11, as proof of his supposed unpatriotic/anti-American attitude. While he explained that he felt that the pin had become a "substitute for true patriotism," ultimately he succumbed to the political pressure and started wearing it again.

At least he wasn't popping out of a tank . . .
Sadly, Mendenhall seems to have caved in to the same sort of pressure, issuing a clarification of his tweets. There is nothing in the retweet that is radically different from the thoughts that Mendenhall expressed, although he felt obliged to make it clear that he is and was not a Bin Laden supporter.

More troubling to me than Mendenhall's tweet are the reactions by some members of the public, the media, and the Steelers to the comments. Or perhaps better put, the lack of reactions to those reactions.

We live in an age when we allow a vocal, strident minority to constantly evaluate and pass judgment on what is and is not patriotic behavior. The silent majority has grown weary of the constant sniping regarding flag and country and has decided, as I often have, that getting involved in the debate isn't worth the price (being called anti-American oneself, subjecting oneself to similar vitriol) to fight the good fight.

Enough is enough.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall paraphrased Voltaire's thoughts in the famous, succinct phrase: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In our age of Patriotic Correctness, we no longer risk death, or even character assassination, to defend the right to say what one thinks at the risk that it may be construed by some as unpatriotic. Instead, we stand silently by as a few who have wrapped themselves in the flag and assumed the mantle of arbiters of all that is or is not "American" decide how to attack the free speech of others.

Whether we should even care what a professional athlete thinks about politics or religion is, of course, a valid question (just as easily, whether anyone should care what a blogging lawyer/soccer coach thinks about anything is equally valid). But being concerned about the right to say something is very different than caring about what is said. The freedom of expression has been slowly chipped away at for 10 years, not by our government as was long ago feared, but rather by the tyranny of the minority, primarily and ironically through the vehicles of the media, blogging, and social media.

Rashard, keep on telling us how you feel. I wasn't listening before. But from now on I'll defend to the death your right to speak, and my right to listen to what you have to say.