Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Luis Suarez Should Be Banned from the World Cup, John Henry Should Make a Statement

Luis Suarez is one of the most dangerous strikers in world soccer, not just for his scoring, but for his biting. Late in Uruguay's match against Italy, Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini. He received no punishment on the field but FIFA are investigating the incident.

It's the third time Suarez has bit an opposing player. A dental hat trick. He's bitten opponents in three countries on two continents. In the past he's sampled Dutch and Serbian flesh. This was his first taste of Italian.

The whole thing is just insane. It's one thing for players to push, shove, even headbutt or punch in the heat of the moment. In all sports, players lose tempers and cross such lines. But to revert to biting someone, and to do so repeatedly, is so psychologically bizarre. That's something you'd expect a troubled kindergartner to do, and then the teacher would have to call home to his parents.

"Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Suarez? I'm afraid I have bad news. Luis is biting again."

As the Hannibal Lector and vampire jokes flow, so does the disgust and embarrassment from the soccer world. Few are defending Suarez. One of the few is Uruguay head coach Oscar Tabarez. After the game he said:

"I do not see why he would not play anymore at the World Cup as you are suggesting. Suarez is the target of some British press. If we see he is going to be attacked, which has begun at this press conference, we're going to defend him. I'm not going to repeat a response three times. I didn't see (an) incident with Suarez. I'm not going to comment. This is a World Cup. It is not about morality."

Those remarks had been translated from Spanish to English. I'll translate from English to Coachingese:

"If Suarez gets suspended, we have no chance. I'd defend him even if he bit off my left nut."

Uruguay's captain, Diego Lugano is in utter denial:

"You need to show me what happened because I didn't see anything. Did you see it today or did you see what happened in other years? You couldn't have seen it today because nothing happened.”

It's up to FIFA to discipline Suarez, because his coach has no interest in doing so, and clearly Suarez has no concept of self-discipline. Suarez feels unfairly criticized by media and fans even though he's been suspended twice for biting other players, and once for using racially charged language against an opponent. In his mind he's a victim. Everyone is out to get him and he can't figure out why.

There's a Boston connection to this. Suarez plays for Liverpool FC, which is owned by John Henry and Fenway Sports Group (FSG). Suarez is the team's best player, by far. This is the equivalent of David Ortiz biting an opponent during the World Baseball Classic.

Will John Henry do or say anything about this incident? Liverpool/Red Sox Ownership stood behind Suarez in 2011 when he was suspended 8 games and fined 40,000 pounds for directing racial language against an opposing player. I don't expect Henry or FSG to defend Suarez now. The evidence against him is too blatant, and he's a repeat offender.

I would like to hear something from FSG. Anything. This is a big story across the world, and Suarez works for John Henry. You'd think Henry would want to comment. Will any media in Boston ask Henry about it? Will any reporter have the stones to ask Henry if Suarez's recent contract extension includes full dental coverage?

Suarez should be banned for the remainder of the World Cup, perhaps longer than that. And the team that pays him millions should issue some sort of statement about the incident. John Henry and Fenway Sports Group can't sit on the sidelines. They need to take a stand one way or another.

He bit a dude. How can you not come out and say "That's messed up?"

Friday, June 20, 2014

Free Event: Watch the Red Sox Game at Franklin Park this Sunday

The City of Boston, the Highland Street Foundation, and the Boston Red Sox will bring the Fenway Park game experience to Franklin Park on Sunday June 22nd. This is part of the "Out of the Park" series of events.

Each “Out of the Park” event will feature a live viewing of a Red Sox away game, broadcast by the New England Sports Network (NESN) on a massive big screen with cut-ins by a live game announcer. The events will also include many of the signature elements and amenities that can be found in and around Fenway Park and Yawkey Way for a home Red Sox game - including caricaturists, balloon artists, face painters, giveaways, free popcorn, ice cream by Hood and Kayem’s famous Fenway Franks. Red Sox mascot Wally the Green Monster, Fenway Park DJ T.J. Connelly, and the Hot Tamales Brass Band will also make special appearances.

The event will be held at the Playstead by Pierpont Road. The Sox will be playing the Oakland Athletics at 4:05 p.m.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

David Ortiz vs. Official Scorers

Sometimes the media makes mountains out of molehills. They take a small story, ramp it up, and turn it into a big deal. It happens in sports, politics, celebrity news, the media does it everywhere. In sports, if the story lasts 48+ hours the media deems it a "distraction." They declare that the story, which the media created/enhanced in the first place, is "taking away" from something more important. This keeps the story alive and makes it an even bigger story. Normally, this vicious cycle irritates me.

David Ortiz is not a victim of this cycle. He's the instigator. He took the molehill and started to build it into a mountain.. Ortiz couldn't leave his disagreement with Bob Ellis (who charged Joe Mauer with an error instead of rewarding David Ortiz with a hit) on the field, where it belongs. Because in Ortiz's mind, it's just the latest example of him being a victim.

Post-game, Ortiz was asked about the disagreement. He could have kept things simple and said something like "I disagreed with the decision," and left it there. He could have diverted attention away from the incident by saying something like "I thought it was a hit, but we won the game, that's what's important."

But moving on from a perceived slight is not what David Ortiz does. Here's what he said:

"We tie the game. We win the game. It doesn't get any better. But I want my hit back anyway... It’s always so hard here, man. I tell you. People are supposed to have your back at home. It never happens. It's always like that. I've been here more than a decade and the scorekeepers here are always horrible. This is home, man... I always look like I am the bad guy but they always end up changing it. Don't just be checking on Papi. Check on the scorekeeper. See what he's doing wrong. It's something that, it’s getting out of control. What is he watching? He’s not watching the same ballgame that everybody is watching, I guess. I got to make it clear. It's not my first rodeo, man. You know how hard it is to get a hit, man?"

The assembled media then laughed at his "rodeo" joke. None of the media asked the question that should have been asked: "Why is this such a big deal? Why care so much about it?"

Ortiz has a history of publicly disagreeing with official scorers. Or as he might see it, official scorers have a history of robbing him of hits and he has a history of standing up for himself and getting justice, saving his batting average from those who scheme to lower it with the stroke of a pen.

Ortiz also has a history of being overly sensitive whenever criticized or questioned. Or as he might see it, many people are out to get him and he needs to fight these conspiring forced in order to survive in Major League Baseball.

I don't care so much about Ortiz disagreeing with the official scorer, it's how he does it. A few years ago when he poked his head into the manager's press conference as the team was collapsing to complain about losing an RBI, it was like a crewman on the Hindenburg complaining about his paycheck to the captain as the airship was crashing and burning.

On Thursday Ortiz voiced his disagreement during the game. Later when the media came asking questions, Ortiz wanted to use them as a voice of his victimhood. "It's getting out of control." "It's always so hard here." "People are supposed to have your back at home. It never happens." "The scorekeepers here are always horrible."

"I always look like I am the bad guy but they always end up changing it." Translation: I cry, then I get my way.

I'm not going to exaggerate and say this is a big deal, or a distraction, or a bad example for younger players. It's an annoyance. And what's so annoying about it is that it could be avoided if David Ortiz just kept himself from trying to use the media to portray himself as a victim.

An official scorer made a decision, maybe the wrong decision, maybe he's human and makes mistakes. It's not part of a larger effort to lower your batting average.

Ortiz's whining changes the conversation. Instead of discussing whether it's a hit or an error, the discussion becomes about Ortiz and his reaction. Ortiz is not the victim, he's the perpetrator, he's the creator of this story.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Redskins, Just Change Your Name Already

The US Patent Office has revoked the trademark on the Redskins' name, claiming that said name is disparaging. While I don't disagree with that assessment, it's a sneaky, roundabout way for the US Government to get involved and try to compel the Redskins to change their name. Which they cannot do directly.

While I think the Government should be less involved in the controversy over the Redskins' name, the NFL has left a vacuum to be filled. The NFL normally micromanages every aspect of the game that involves appearance and image. They punish players for not tucking their shirt in, for choreographed celebration, and for doing anything that might tarnish the league's image.

Yet they've passed the buck of responsibility on the Redskins issue. They won't ask/request/demand that the Redskins change their name. Nor will they stand behind the name and defend it from its critics and detractors. They've wiped their hands of the issue. Which is decidedly indecisive of them. It's very un-Goodell-like.

Daniel Snyder, just change the name. Teams change their names all the time. Teams change cities with even more ease.

The Texans were the Oilers, the Ravens were the Browns, the Chiefs were the Texans, the Colts played in Baltimore, the Cardinals in St. Louis, the Rams in LA. The Washington Redskins were once the Boston Braves (changed to Redskins when they moved to Fenway Park in 1933). It happens.

The Red Sox were once the Pilgrims, once the Americans. The Yankees were once the Highlanders. The baseball Braves were once the Beaneaters. The Giants were once the Haymakers. From 1953 to 1959 the Cincinnati Reds changed their name to Redlegs because they didn't want to be associated with Communism.

Straw Man Argument #1:
The name isn't that offensive, here are some polls to back me up.

Who cares what percentage of randomly polled people find it offensive? It's not about being offensive, it's about being an outdated term. Like "negro" or "colored" are outdated terms. If you had a Native American friend, would you introduce him by saying "That Redskin over there is Charlie, he lives next door?"

People probably aren't offended by "redskin" because nobody uses it. But if people did use it, it would be considered a derogatory term. You wouldn't use it in conversation with a Native American. You'd get written up at work if you used it.

If you wouldn't use the term to the face of the person the term is supposed to describe, it's probably not a good term.

Straw Man Argument #2:
Slippery slope! Changing the name might lead to ridiculous requests to change other team's names.

So changing the Redskins' isn't a ridiculous request, but you're worried about future ridiculous requests. Lame argument. Deal with the absurd requests when they come. The Cleveland Indians might need to change their name, and their cartoonishly racist logo. The Chiefs should be okay because the term "chief" isn't racist. The Braves might be in some trouble. But let's deal with those discussions as they come up.

Not giving in now because you don't want to give in later is irrational.

Straw Man Argument #3:
History and tradition

I don't think you want to go down the road of history when discussing Native American issues.

This is a foolish argument anyway. It's like going back to the 1920s and arguing that women shouldn't have the right to vote because they traditionally and historically haven't had it. It's like arguing that we should continue to use terms like "negro" and "colored" because they're traditional and historical.

The Redskins have a rich history as the Redskins. Changing the name won't erase that history. The Syracuse Orange used to be the Orangemen until 2004, yet SU fans still shove their history down everyone's throat.

So Redskins, you've had your name for 80 years. It was a good run. But it's a term from the 1930s. It's time to grow up and find a new name for yourselves. Nobody uses the term "Redskin" anymore. You shouldn't either. You've changed names before, changed cities, changed stadiums, changed uniforms, changed logos. Time to find a new name.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bruins Correct to Let Shawn Thornton Go, Need Top Players to Be Leaders

When the Bruins take the ice in a few months, Shawn Thornton will not be with them. The Bruins have announced that the free agent winger will not be re-signed. To call Thornton a fan favorite would be the biggest understatement of the year. Bruins fans loved him for his strong fists on the ice, his veteran leadership on the bench, and his charitable heart away from the arena.

My Shawn Thornton t-shirt is one of my favorites in my closet and I wear it happily all year long, even in the harsh heat of summer, despite the fact that it's black. And while I'll continue to wear that shirt until it disintegrates into tattered rags, the Bruins deciding to not give Thornton one of their sweaters next season is the smart decision to make.

He's 36, and will turn 37 in July. He averaged 8:48 of ice time last year. He scored 5 goals, had 3 assists, and was +4. In the playoffs he had an assist and was -2. He's not a productive player. There's more to his game than points and time on ice. Much more. But the lack of offensive production is part of the Shawn Thornton package. The Bruins need more forwards who can score, who can create chances. Thornton doesn't do that.

He's an enforcer. He's a leader. He's played in 101 playoff games, has won the Stanley Cup twice. Players look up to him. Opponents fear him. However, the Bruins need to find leadership from their top 2 lines, not the 4th line.

This team has relied too much on Shawn Thornton's enforcing, too much on him to be the motivating voice on the bench. Guys like Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand (if he's still on the team) need to step up and become leaders. They've been around the League long enough. They've won, they've lost. For too long they've leaned on Thornton as a leader.

Why does this team need an "energy line" to get the top lines motivated? That motivation needs to come from within those players. And if they can't find it, they don't belong here.

Look at teams like LA and Chicago. Do they depend on guys like Shawn Thornton to lead them? Guys who play 9 minutes a game, and who are sometimes healthy scratched in playoff games? Do they get their leadership from guys who play less than 10 minutes, or do they get it from guys who play 18+ minutes?

I love Thornton. I love what he did here, what he did for the Bruins, how much he embraced the City of Boston. I'll miss him. The fact is, however, the Bruins need production and Thornton isn't a productive player. Also, the best players on the Bruins need to grow up and become leaders, and stop relying on someone else to lead them. What Thornton gave the Bruins is something the top forwards need to generate on their own.

Photo Credit:
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

It Doesn't Matter if Tom Brady Is a "Top-5 QB" or Not

An ESPN article has outraged the sports fans of Boston and New England. Sam Monson wrote a piece that argued that Tom Brady was no longer a "top-5 QB." I contend that as far as the Patriots are concerned, it doesn't matter if Brady is or isn't.

I'm not going to waste much time dwelling on Monson's assertions. If forced at gunpoint to give my top 5 NFL QBs, I'd include Brady. You'd have to force me at gunpoint because I think such discussions, and the side-arguments they spawn, are essentially meaningless. Being in the top 5 is such a relative, changeable thing. One year the 6th best QB could be great, another year the 3rd best could just be good. What does it matter?

It's all relative, yet the discussion is phrased in absolute terms. Instead of Brady "being in the top 5," pundits and some fans say Brady "is a top-5." That's an important difference in words. Being "in" a top 5 suggests that there's a list that QBs enter, fall out of, rise, and fall. The list is permanent, the player's spot on the list is not. Saying someone "is" a top 5 suggests that it's the player's greatness that is permanent, that he has some sort of top-fiveness quality to him, and somehow this attribute can only be possessed by 5 players at any given time. Once this greatness transfers to another player, the player drops out of the top 5.

So instead of acknowledging that these are rankings and are relative, they become attributes, described the same way that someone might describe height or weight. "He's a tall QB," "He's a big QB," "He's a top-5 QB." Saying a player "is a top-5 QB" sounds much more absolute than saying "he's in the top 5."

It pisses me off.

The biggest reason I hate these discussions is because football is so team-oriented that it doesn't matter if your QB is in the top 5 or not. Monson didn't include Russell Wilson in his top 5, but did include Philip Rivers. Who won the last Super Bowl? Was Joe Flacco "a top-5 QB" in 2012? Eli Manning wasn't a top 5 candidate until the Giants won in '07 (against Brady, who was a top 1 QB that season), then Eli was top 5 material, then he wasn't, then the Giants won again so he was, now he's not.

A "top-5 QB" is not a necessary ingredient to victory. Monson's top 5 (Rivers, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger) have a total of 5 Super Bowl rings, none in the last 3 years. Non-top-5 QBs have won the last 3 Super Bowls, and wear a total of 7 rings.

Six of the last 11 Super Bowl winning QBs aren't among Monson's top 5. Eight of the last 14 Conference champions have been helmed by QBs outside his top 5. In the past three seasons, only 1 of Monson's top 5 has made the Super Bowl, and he lost.

Have I made my point?

Two conclusions can be drawn from this:

1. Monson's list isn't very good

2. More importantly, teams win Super Bowls, not top 5 quarterbacks

Tom Brady may or may not be in the top 5 in 2014. Time will tell. Ultimately, it doesn't mean that much in determining the fate of the 2014 Patriots. And here's why:

If the Patriots win the Super Bowl this season, it will be because they did not need Brady to be amazing.

I'll phrase the argument to address Monson: If the Patriots win the Super Bowl, it will be because they did not need Brady to be a top-5 QB.

In other words, for the Pats to win this year, they have to win as a team. Brady could be the best QB in the League, but if the Pats NEED him to be "a top-5 QB," they'll lose in the end, no matter how good Brady is. By the same token, if the Patriots DON'T need Brady to be "a top-5 QB" to be successful, then they have a strong chance at winning it all. And that's the only way they'll have a chance, if they don't need him to be amazing all the time.

Therefore, Brady's position in the rankings of quarterbacks is irrelevant. He's part of a team. An important part, but still just one part. If that team needs him to be spectacular, the team will fail. If the team doesn't need him to be spectacular, the team has a good chance to succeed.

Where Brady falls in QB rankings is meaningless for the Patriots, and should be meaningless for their fans. What matters is that the Patriots don't rely solely on him to win. Brady being in or out of the NFL's top 5 QBs has little bearing on the success or failure of the 2014 Patriots.