Changing the Game

Don’t Forget Who You’re Playing For.

I grew up in Anchorage, Alaska playing competitive youth hockey. I was positively giddy with any prospect of getting my pads on and getting on the ice. While I loved playing hockey, I have never had any interest in watching it. Apparently, there are millions and millions of people who agreed with me. Two years ago, the seventh game of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals was the 12th highest rated show that night on cable! The viewers were absolutely staying away in droves watching Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Punk’d. Then came the lockout. Did ESPN, the national network who primarily covers the NHL panic? No. They simply went looking for new programming to take its place. So what did they come up with? Poker. And what happened? Well, what happened is the American public showed more interest in Phil Helmuth and Harold Lederer than Mario Lemuiex and Steve Yzerman.

I think the problem with hockey was that there were no pretty goals anymore. It seemed like every hockey highlight was a bunch of guys standing around the goal hacking at the puck when, finally, the light came on and all the guys raised their arms. What happened to Gretzky weaving in and out of players through the neutral zone, hitting Messier on the tape and then getting the puck back for a one-timer? I don’t know, but I haven’t seen it since checkered Vans and parachute pants were sweeping the nations middle schools.

Then something happened: hockey got smart. They changed the game. The purists anguished and rolled over in their graves. The veterans started talking like their sport had become unrecognizable. But something else happened: the fans came back with their interest piqued. So what if a shootout to settle a tie trivializes the game, its fun as hell to watch. So what if limiting holding stifles defensive-minded players, the open ice condition it creates is worth paying for. So what if eliminating the two-line pass can be seen as a travesty, I want to see young Simon Crosby receive a forty footer that leads to a breakaway.

Similar to hockey purists who want to preserve the game rather than adapt to the fans desires and the changing times, proponents of the instant replay system in the NFL say that “the most important thing is to get the call right.” To that I say: nonsense. The most (and only) important thing in any professional sport is to keep the consumer happy, just like any business. If there is a call that is missed, I say so what. Over the course of the season, ultimately, better teams will prevail over weaker teams. Quarterbacks throw interceptions, running backs fumble the ball, receivers drop the ball, and referees occasionally miss calls. Live with it and stop subjecting fans to six or seven minute “peep show” sessions as the referee reviews what seems to be every other play.

While we’re at it, let’s address another sport: men’s tennis (especially on grass), is absurd. One huge serve, maybe a return, but never a long rally. The players are stronger than ever, the equipment is better than ever, so why not adapt the game? I propose raising the net four inches in men’s tennis. Longer rallies, more precision, emphasis on true athleticism rather than a cannon serve. The women’s game is slowly overtaking the men’s game in popularity. Now, being a red- blooded American male, I know that some of this has to do with devastating beauties like Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharipova, but it also has something to do with the monumental points that are played.

Hell, let’s make the goals bigger in soccer (I hate the word ‘nil’), an NBA hoop 10’6”, the pitchers’ mound lower.....eventually, they’d all be better games for it.

I never thought I’d say it, but all sports should have a long hard look at hockey and what they have done to come back from the dead. If a sport is played in a stadium and no one is there to see it, is it really a sport at all? 

Night & Day

A Mile In My Shoes

Some people were appalled at Fisher DeBerry’s comments last month. I was appalled that he had to apologize.

DeBerry, the head coach of the Air Force football team, said ”It’s very obvious to me the other day that the other team had a lot more Afro-American players than we did, and they ran a lot faster than we did. It just seems to be that way, that Afro-American kids can run very, very well”

On first glance, the use of the term ‘Afro-American’ is noticeable only because it is an improper (and arcane) attempt to say ‘African-American’. Other than that, I have no problem with anything he said, nor should anyone. He didn’t say anyone is smarter or dumber than anyone else, nor that anyone is richer or poorer than anyone else—he only said that, in his experience, he has found that black athletes are faster than white athletes. Well, I have found that to be true in my experience, as well. That is not, of course, to say that there are not fast white guys and slow black guys. Conduct a scientific study if you want. I don’t choose to. I choose to simply look at the last thirty world champions in the 100 meters, the racial makeup of the speed positions in the NFL in the last twenty years, and the racial makeup of major college basketball and the NBA.

Anyone who has ever been involved in speed-oriented sports must agree with his statement, they may not say it to the press, but they must agree with it. I have played football and basketball my whole life and, no matter what any politically correct announcer tells me, there is a difference when it comes to black and white athletes. I’ve heard all the theories ranging from higher thigh muscles to fast twitch fibers to socio- economic conditions. The fact of the matter is that I have no idea why black athletes are different than white athletes, I just know that they are different—and, in most cases, superior.

I realize that any mention of race in the context of sports is a political hot button. Some of that is probably due to the idiotic comments of Jimmy the Greek (theorizing that black athletes are superior due to breeding during slavery) and Al Campanis (saying that blacks lacked the mental abilities necessary to be a big league manager). I say: don’t let the asinine comments of two bigots preclude us from discussing what amounts to a huge pink elephant dancing on the 50 yard line of Mile High Stadium.

Fisher DeBerry may have apologized, but he only said what he, and every other coach in America, knows to be a self-evident truth. I never saw a study showing that Pizza tastes better than brussel sprouts, or that Donald Trump has bad hair, or that people from Maine are generally more polite than people from Philly or that OJ lied in court, but I know these things to be true. They are self-evident truths, we shouldn’t have to apologize for them.