Posts Tagged ‘sports’

Days until the Presidential Election: Day 65. College Football.

September 3, 2012

Ok so autopublish didn’t work: apparently you have to keep the lap top ON to do that.  Whoops.  The phrase “American as apple pie” has always confused me: I mean, apples aren’t American and filled fruit pastries are as universal as creation stories (hmmm….interesting thought).  But football, American football, is as U-S-A as it gets.

This past weekend provided the kick off the college football season: usually pretty boring, smaller Division I schools offering themselves up to larger schools to pay for the athletic budgets.  The weekend provides some surprises: Ohio University upsetting Penn State and Alabama rolling all over Michigan (sorry, that was too easy to pass up).

Maybe you have to grow up in a football crazed part of the country to truly understand why a defeat at the hands of Vanderbilt, Northwestern, and Kansas ranks up there as a calamity.  It’s fun, it’s a break from routine, home games bring huge amounts of revenue into the local communities.

Yes there are very real conversations that need to happen in the arena of college graduation rates, the exploitation of the student athlete in a handful of sports and how sports is perceived in the wider community.  College football, as an institution, is far, far from perfect.  However, in a few areas of the country, for a few hours each week, we can put life on pause and have some fun.  And if you’re really adventuresome, try those Oreos with beer.


Chance encounter

March 27, 2012

Fourteen or so years ago, my brother and I cut across a parking lot by Thompson-Boiling Arena on the way to a Tennessee/Notre Dame football game. We wove among tailgaters talking about our mom’s cancer having come back, trying to make sorts of the crushing news and the next thing I knew my brother was sprawled (and I do mean sprawled) out on the ground having been taken out by a kid. I looked at the kid to make sure he was ok, smirked at my brother and in with in a second was paralyzed by fright. A voice said something like this “Tyler, I’ve told you a hundred times”. I REALLY made sure the kid, one Tyler Summitt, was ok. The last thing I needed in my life was my brother harming the prince of East Tennessee. Everybody knew Tyler, everybody knew Pat and now my brother was sprawled out on a parking lot having taken out a kid. Great.

The first thing Pat Summitt did was make sure my brother was ok. | stood there stunned. Pat made Tyler apologize, then she apologized and we parted ways. As we walked away, I looked at my brother and said you had better be grateful you didn’t harm Tyler Summitt.

Since I went to my first UT game in 1988 until last year, one thing was the same. Pat would prowl the sidelines, barking at her team, the officials, Smokey and just about everybody at TBA. This year has been nothing short of painful. Every game, every venue opposing fans would pay tribute. Reporters from major outlets have talked about how Pat Summitt single handedly changed the perception of women’s athletics (with a major assist from Title IX). As clearly as I can see the fantastic title game in Kansas City, I can see the painful losses – the national title game in Philly where they carried Geno around … and the back door cuts after back door cuts. The loss in the 2001 regional semi final where I was so mad, I went out at got something good that was orange. A cat (really) – it’s how Jackson came into my life. He was almost named Pat – but I had a nephew Patrick and well, Jackson is a boy.

Pat Summitt has done it all in her sport: the first Olympic Captain for women’s basketball, 1098 career victories, more than one court named after her, legions of fans, a 100% graduation rate: last night 3 graduate students started for Tennessee. I turned the game off at half time. I couldn’t watch it anymore. Tennessee was going to lose. I couldn’t see through my tears. This wasn’t the most talented team – Baylor deserved the win. I wanted a fairy tale ending. I wanted one more title.

The answer is that this is the legacy of Pat: more teams are more competitive than at any other time in women’s basketball. Stanford, Baylor, UConn, Tennessee, Kentucky, Duke, Maryland, Notre Dame, LSU, Georgia all have or are building in the case of Kentucky, deep basketball traditions. Women in sports are becoming more the norm: I work with a former DI hockey player. My niece is a fantastic ball player. A daughter of a friend is on a traveling volleyball team. There were other programs that embraced Title IX (Anson Dorrance at UNC leaps to mind with soccer) but basketball is a sport that most individuals will probably play (from H-O-R-S-E to competitive) at some point during their lives.

I watched the clips from Holly Warlick and Kim Mulkey today. Both were fraught with emotion and near tears. At some point, Pat will step down. Probably this off season. It hurts. Alzheimer’s is an ugly, brutal disease that does nothing but rob people.

As I’ve thought about how much this feels painful, I remember that crisp October afternoon. A chance encounter with an iconic figure. And oh, how she will be missed.

Sigh, and the the response? Oh, never critique college athletics!

January 4, 2012

Earlier this week, I had a post about a now former UT player who wrote a letter to the editor that demonstrated exceptionally poor grammatical skills.  Look, I’m not a wordsmith.  Being terrifically dyslexic I rely on spell check, grammar check and often have to go back and make basic corrections because I simply do not see the errors.  What disturbed me about the letter was the capitalization (hey, English is pretty clear on this *one* rule!) and a letter with so many errors, that for me, it demonstrated an individual who did not have the basic writing skills that should be indicative of a high school graduate.  I received a reply back to my blog….and approved it….and have been chewing on it:

This is such an ignorant arguement. Their are thousands of international students that attend Universities that can barely even speak the English language yet alone write a coherent sentence, but they are graduating from the top Universities with math, science, and engineering degrees. Who are you to judge a man’s intelligance based soley on one writing sample and form an entire biased arguement against he and every other student athlete. Who are you to speak for Notre Dame, Michigan or Michigan State and who they decide to accept into their institutions. Why do you care what happens to college athlete’s after their playing days are over. They make up less then 4% of the entire student body. Why not take into account all those millions of students across the country who CAN “write a proper English sentence” but are majoring in fields that can’t even get you a decent hourly wage in today’s times. Yet all these students are leaving college 50-60k in debt. For the average student colleges say to them, “You pay us, we’ll educate you in whatever you want to study.” But for the college athlete that same University says “We’ll pay you to play, and we’ll give you an outstanding education, while you make us money to help market our Univeristy on television and gain private donors and corporate dollars to build new facilities and add prestiage to our name. We will also give you personal tutors and every educational resource we have available to keep you eligable.”

So if anything, college athletes have more of an advantage to a more effecient college education because these college’s and Universities have more of an investment in these students athlete’s for them not to fail, as opposed to John Doe who is majoring in Art History or Archeology of the Aztec Empire. Hence, college athlete’s leave their respective Universities  better prepared to succeed in life and with as much education then the average student.”

Sigh.  I think I just proved my point.  A few responses:

“Why do you care what happens to college athlete’s after their playing days are over.”  Put it this way: if somebody goes through high school and college/university and cannot write a basic letter to the editor, there is a fatal flaw in the education system.  I’m not into stalking former wide receivers at a university: I do hope that when an athlete leaves his/her sport she has the skills to succeed in life.

Who are you to judge a man’s intelligance based soley on one writing sample and form an entire biased arguement against he and every other student athlete. I’m not judging his intelligence.  I am saying that there is a major problem with the system. Look, we all receive judgement based on a first impression: when you look for a job, it is often your cover letter/resume.  When you apply to colleges, it is often your essay.  Both require writing skills that were not demonstrated in the letter.

Why not take into account all those millions of students across the country who CAN “write a proper English sentence” but are majoring in fields that can’t even get you a decent hourly wage in today’s times. I do.  Having a BA in American History and a Master’s in Theology, I don’t exactly have the most practical degrees.  I’m hacking down my student loans, live very bare to the bones and after being laid off from one job, my ability to write is what landed me the interview (how do I know? I was told by the person who hired me).  That being said, if you are going to major in political science, you need a plan b.  You need to develop marketable skills.  Being able to write a proper sentence IS critical to success, even in our hyper-abreviated forms of communication.

But for the college athlete that same University says “We’ll pay you to play, and we’ll give you an outstanding education, while you make us money to help market our Univeristy on television and gain private donors and corporate dollars to build new facilities and add prestiage to our name. We will also give you personal tutors and every educational resource we have available to keep you eligable.”  Ok, the university better not be PAYING anybody to play except via a tuition/room/board/books stipend.  And given the letter to the editor, isn’t it concerning that despite the resources available, the individual still could not write a correct letter to the editor? Again, this isn’t the fault of the University of Tennessee: where were the high school English teachers?

The NCAA and member schools are doing a disservice to the athletes when they do not ensure that the students enrolling are able to make the grade in the classroom.

Penn State Missed an Opportunity

November 10, 2011

I can’t find the transcript of what Penn State representatives chose to say to the media last night. Quite honestly, I’m not interested in reading it.  I’m going to let the college students rioting thing be what it is: hopefully in a few years they will understand why it as a dumb move.  I made the mistake of reading the grand jury findings.  I’m not sure what I was looking for when I read the document.

I found myself becoming angry.  Angry at the conversations about the way “Paterno had to leave”.  Joe Paterno sealed his fate: he stated he “regretted” his decision when the graduate student came forward: he had years to speak up, this didn’t happen in June.

Paterno said in a statement he was “absolutely devastated” by the case, in which his former assistant and onetime heir apparent, Jerry Sandusky, has been charged with molesting eight boys in 15 years, with some of the alleged abuse taking place at the Penn State football complex.

“This is a tragedy,” Paterno said. “It is one of the great sorrows of my life. With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more.”  So do we all, Joe. So do we all.  Coming forward the day of your firing to try to have one more home game shows, to me, that you can’t do the honorable thing.  You should have walked away.  Penn State, instead of firing you and others involved should have said “We are Penn State University: we do not tolerate this behavior at any level by anybody associated with our school.”  Penn State isn’t alone in this, but any school that doesn’t say when dismissing an individual for ethical violations to crimes against others we do not tolerate this here is just as complacent as those who stood by and did nothing.

Joe Paterno has 17 grandchildren.  Statistically speaking one of them will be the victim of sexual abuse before his/her 16th birthday (actually, probably 2).  How can he look at them and know that he condoned through in action the type of behavior which destroys a life.

It does destroy a life.  The life can be rebuilt but there is always something missing.  Rick Reilly has a sublime article on ESPN: read it.  There is always something missing when you have been the victim of sexual abuse as a child.  You intrinsically learn distrust (and some where Erik Erikson is smiling as it’s one of his flipping 8 stages of human development).  You learn silence. You learn self-doubt.  You are told people won’t believe you.  I can go on but I won’t out of self-preservation.

There are 8 young men who had their lives ruined by an iconic institution.  They came forward and spoke out through the legal system.  They will rebuild their lives.  Slowly.  We all do and at some level the pain never goes away.  I hope they have people around them who will support them and hold them through the difficult days.  They are the heroes.  They said what many adults can only say in a whisper and many years later.

But Penn State? What should they have done. Cancelled the remainder of the football season, cancelled it until they were sure that every member of the Penn State faculty and staff who were involved in the cover-up of the rape of children were no longer welcome in Happy Valley.

Instead? The game goes on – with the witness coaching.

And Paterno? I hope he can find a way to look in the mirror and answer “were those wins worth the lives I destroyed” honestly.  Only then would I think about letting him out of the seat next to Sandusky in hell.

What you do when nobody is watching is what matters.

February 27, 2011

My brother and his son spent part of this past week in Cincinnati. One of their stops, the University of Cincinnati campus, demonstrated what is good about college athletics.  While “investigating” the football stadium in a way that only a 4-year-old can, my nephew spied a big bus – an instant draw.  He noticed athletes, dressed in sweats with hoods up walking to the bus.

In hopes of finding an elusive college football player, he went to investigate. Much to his initial chagrin, he found the Cincinnati women’s basketball team. They were en route to South Bend and an eventual loss to the #7 Notre Dame program.   Jamelle Elliott, the coach of the Bearcats, is in the process of leading her team through an injury filled season that according to dressed 7 players for the Notre Dame game.

Given all of that, one would expect a wave or a nod to a cute kid. It’s been an exhausting season on the Cincinnati campus for the women’s basketball team. Instead, 3 players (and I wish I knew their names) stopped loading the busses, walked over and talked to my nephew about taking the bus to Notre Dame, and spent a few minutes with a kid who isn’t a Cincinnati fan and really was more interested in seeing a “real football player”.

Evan and Oscar

Evan said good-bye to his new friends “Have a safe trip! Have a good game!” and headed off to see the statue of Oscar Robinson.  A nice encounter with a group of athletes.  For Evan, it would only get better.

He spied a pitcher and a catcher practicing.  He asked my brother about the signs the catcher was going over and why they did that.  Fearlessly, Evan went over and announced he was going to play T-ball in the spring.  Again, many athletes would say something polite and carry on with their workout.

The two ball players asked him if he knew how to throw – and then provided him with an impromptu clinic on the right way to throw a baseball.  My brother said they spent a solid 15 minutes showing Evan how to throw and talking to him. Nobody was watching, simply 2 young men being nice to my nephew.  Brian Cleary, you have some class acts playing for you.

There is a lot wrong with college athletics but there is much more that is right. My brother will always be a Tennessee Vol. I’ll always pull of The Ohio State University.  But when Cincinnati plays? They’ve picked up a few fans; simply by going of their way to be nice to a little kid who was exploring their campus.

The University of Cincinnati president Gregory Williams should be proud.