Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tony Dungy Clarifies His Michael Sam Comments...By Repeating His Michael Sam Comments

I wasn’t going to say anything about Tony Dungy’s commentson Michael Sam, because people smarter than I said what I was thinking much better (or at least snarkier) than I could have myself.

But then Tony Dungy clarified his comments by saying, well by saying his original comments all over again. “My philosophy of drafting, a philosophy that was developed over the years…was to minimize distractions for my teams.”

Let's be clear: the only “distractions” Michael Sam is causing is when people like Tony Dungy make a big deal of how distracting Michael Sam is.

Plus, and this has been asked multiple times by many people but it’s worth repeating, was Dungy’s philosophy really about “minimizing distractions”? Let’s go to the highlights!

Keyshawn Johnson, who at the time was merely a talented headcase who had just “written” (with ESPN’s Shelley Smith) the book, “Just Give Me The Damn Ball,” was traded for by Tampa Bay, with Dungy as its head coach. A few years later (after Dungy was fired), Key would be deactivated for the season by the Bucs because he was considered…wait for it…a distraction.

Michael Vick, who at the time had just gotten out of prison for his role in the dog fighting ring, was signed by the Eagles thanks in large part to Dungy, who was instrumental in helping Vick and all of his baggage find an NFL home. Vick was such a lightning rod that the debate of whether or not he should be allowed to play in the NFL continues today. 

Johnny Manziel, who in 2012 was arrested, who in 2013 left the Manning Passing Academy early (allegedly for oversleeping), who later that year was investigated by the NCAA for accepting money for autographs, whose off-the-field exploits has led to media asking coaches and teammates about them over and over again – you know, Johnny Football – was lauded by Dungy not once, but twice, about how good a football player and what a great teammate he was going to be. Just for fun, you should google “Johnny Manziel” and “off the field” and scan through the first few pages of the over two million results.

But sure, having Keyshawn, Vick and Manziel on your team would totally work with a philosophy of “minimizing distractions.”

If Tony Dungy had just left his comments as “if you can play, you can play,” (which coincidentally is an organization Dungy doesn't seem to agree with), he would have been (mostly) in the clear. We could have looked past his previous anti-gay stance because he’s just so gosh-darn likeable on TV. But he had to throw that little bit of himself in there, that part of him that still looks at Michael Sam the gay man first and Michael Sam the football player second.

Dungy is certainly free to voice his opinion, and unfortunately he is not alone in that opinion. But there is hope that change is on the way. Not too many years ago, people still thought that having a black quarterback would negatively affect the locker room (read: be a distraction). In February, Russell Wilson led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl with very little reporting on his race. I hope coverage of gay football players goes the same way.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Why Anti-Soccer People Are Wrong (And Trolls)

Every four years, an event takes place that divides our great country. We know it’s coming; we talk about it ad nauseam before, during and after; people choose sides and yell across the aisles about how wrong the opposition is.

I’m referring, of course, to the World Cup. It comes around every four years. Soccer fans in America –


– get excited for the two months of world class soccer, sometimes even rearranging their sleep schedule to watch the games.

Unfortunately, the growth of soccer fans in America has also led to an outbreak of soccer haters (henceforth known as “trolls). Trolls gonna troll, and when the World Cup comes around those trolls take to the airwaves and the twitters and the facebooks to discount everything soccer.

I’ve noticed a few anti-soccer points that the trolls raise time and time again, so I thought now would be a good time to answer some of those arguments.

1) Soccer is boring

This is an easy argument for anti-soccer people to make, and usually their reasoning centers around the dearth of scoring. But here’s the thing – ALL sports are boring. In fact, turn on any game in any sport on TV, and the odds are it will be boring.  

The NBA Finals are, theoretically, the most exciting time in the [professional] basketball season. But in 2007, when the Cavaliers were swept by the Spurs, most people wrote it off as one of the most boring Finals ever. Moreover, the majority of NBA fans will readily admit that regular season games are pretty boring unless it’s between two top teams, and they generally don’t start actually watching games until the playoffs.

College football – one of the most popular sports in America – had a national championship in 2012 between Alabama and LSU that was roundly criticized for being incredibly boring. In fact, most college football games are pretty boring, unless you’re a fan of the team that’s beating the other team by a gazillion points. The college basketball tournament is usually pretty exciting, but the regular season? Sure, some games are fun, but by and large most are 50-40 slugfests.

The NFL – another one of the most popular sports in America – has boring games every Sunday. Don’t believe me? Do you have any interest in watching Oakland at Cleveland on Oct. 26? I thought so.

Here’s another key point about football: in a 60 minute game, there is only about 11 minutes of actual action. Read that sentence again, I’ll wait. Now that you’ve read it again, you might ask, what is “action”? Good question, glad you asked. Action is the time between when the ball is snapped until the play is whistled dead. The Wall Street Journal did a study in 2010 and found that during the three real-time hours of the game, with 60 minutes of gametime, only 11 minutes are actual football action. Which means, during a college or pro football game, you watch more commercials than you do actual football action. Soccer, on the other hand, has no commercials during actual soccer action.

(On an aside, maybe that’s one of the reasons Americans have been so slow to gravitate to soccer – you don’t have built in breaks for your ADHD or bathroom trips or snack grabs once the action begins.)

NASCAR – usually No. 2 behind the NFL in the popularity contest – has seen its ratings drop significantly this season. I can’t really speak to this one, because I literally have never watched more than 30 seconds of a NASCAR broadcast.

Baseball…is incredibly boring, especially on TV. You will never convince me otherwise. One guy went to a Colorado Rockies game high as akite and had the best baseball viewing experience of his life. Granted, he hates baseball and doesn’t go to games often, but still.

My point is this: with all the boring games from all these other sports, why hasn’t anyone ever written about how the offending sport should be done away with? After the 2007 NBA Finals, did people ridicule fans of the NBA? No. After the 2012 college football championship, was there ever talk about how stupid and boring and non-sensical college football is? Nope. Was the system changed to implement a playoff to appease the fans who were upset about that one boring game? Ok, yes. That did happen. Bad example.

But here’s the thing about soccer that makes it more palatable than the other sports: it’s relatively short. When you watch a game, you know it’s going to be two hours. Even if it’s part of a tournament and goes to extra time or even penalty kicks, it still won’t go past three hours. When was the last time a college football, NBA, NFL or baseball game went two hours? Plus, and it’s worth repeating, watching soccer means you actually get to watch soccer – there are no commercial breaks during the first or second half (or extra sessions).

2) You’re Not A Fan Of Something If You Only Watch Every Four Years

Another easy argument to make, even if it’s wrong. Yes, the World Cup happens every four years. Yes, international soccer doesn’t have a “season” per se. But World Cup fans are generally watching games leading into the World Cup. We’ll watch international friendlies, or the qualifying matches, or EPL on NBC, or Champions League on FOX, or even MLS. But besides that, how many people watch Olympic sports during non-Olympic years? Some sports people will tune in for, sure, but the majority…not so much. For example, I love watching curling, but I’m not even sure it exists outside of the Olympics.

3) Growing Interest In Soccer Can Only Be A Sign Of The Nation’s Moral Decay

Ok, that one is true. I can’t dispute it. Sorry, America.

4) Any Sport In Which You Can’t Use Your Hands Is Stupid

This one I really don’t understand. In track and field, most of the running events don’t include the use of one’s hands. Besides, who cares what body parts you use to play a sport? A sport is just a game, for crying out loud. For that matter, calling a sport a name that actually is just 3% of that sport is stupid. American football is called football…why, exactly? Because the players use their feet to run around? If so, then why isn’t basketball also called football?

Let’s be clear – the only players in American Football who really use their feet are kickers, and they are the generally viewed as the least footbally members of any football team. At least football (read: soccer) is a name that actually makes sense. Players use their FOOT…to kick a BALL.

5) Penalty Kicks Is A Stupid Way To End A Game

I won’t entirely disagree with this argument, because it’s valid. Games that go to penalty kicks are basically decided by the kicker putting the ball on goal and the goalie guessing right on which direction he should go to stop the ball. Now, I do think that another overtime session wouldn’t make sense – in professional soccer you can only make three substitutions per game, which means that after 120 minute of action the players will be absolutely gassed. They’ve just run between 7-10 miles, for crying out loud. My guess is that more time will not lead to a gamewinning goal, since everyone on the field will be exhausted.

So what could be done to make penalty kicks a better way to end a game? A friend of mine made a suggestion on facebook that I think is brilliant in its simplicity – just move the kicker back. Right now penalty kicks are taken from 12 yards away from goal. If you move the ball to the 18-yard mark, it makes it a little more difficult for the kicker and gives the goalie a chance to be reactive to the shot rather than making an educated guess about where he thinks the shot is going. This way both participants in the penalty are relying on their athletic ability.


The point of all of this is to say: your arguments against soccer are mostly dumb, and the only reason you’re making them is because you know it will get a rise out of soccer fans. Which is actually the best indication of how far we have come as a soccer-loving society. People are now trolling U.S. soccer fans. Rihanna went out of her way to tweet her support for EVERY TEAM EXCEPT THE USA. There was that silly troll (as Ken Tremendous called her), who wrote a ridiculously silly troll piece, trolling American soccer fans. There were countless tweets and facebook posts using the five talking points I listed above.

But beyond all that, the ratings for the World Cup were amazing. The US games averaged approximately 25 million viewers between ESPN/ABC, WatchESPN and Univision. Not just that, but the championship between Germany and Argentina – two teams that are decidedly NOT America – set a record with more than 26 million viewers, becoming the most-watched soccer match in American history.

All of which means…soccer is here to stay. Trolls don’t troll unless they know there is something to gain by trolling. Soccer fans in America are passionate and we are tuning into games in record numbers. If you’re not on board yet, I suggest you give soccer a shot. It’s fun to watch, it’s only two hours, and you get to be trolled by trolls.

But you don’t have to call it “futbol.” Even I draw the line there.