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Archive for the category “sports”

A lifetime of memories, on a smaller scale

A recent news story on the Los Angeles CBS news radio station emphasized how time scales are different for many of us.

The story discussed damage from one of several fires that have plagued California in the last few weeks. It concentrated on the destruction to the Sylmar Independent Baseball League’s fields.


Sylmar Independent Baseball League

Fields that are used by young people.

One of these kids was quoted in the story:

“I played in this park since I was 3. I’ve never seen it like this, so I’m pretty bummed about it,” said one player.

They didn’t state the age of the player, but he was probably no more than ten years old, and possibly younger.

So his memories of the baseball field stretch back no more than seven years, but those memories span more than half of his lifetime.

This boy’s perspective of time is different than mine, because I’ve lived a little bit longer than him.

Seven years? Heck, that was only ONE corporate reorganization ago, and it was AFTER the groundbreaking NAS report was released. My daughter was just getting ready for her first year of college.

So what did things look half a lifetime ago for me? Well, the NAS report, or fingerprinting in general, wasn’t a concern of mine. My daughter wasn’t a concern of mine either; I wasn’t even married yet.

And Sylmar? The 1994 Northridge earthquake was still in Sylmar’s future.

But the Sylmar Independent Baseball League was around at that time.

And it probably will be 30 years from now.

In which I hazard a guess regarding the future of (American) football

I recently ran across an article with two very significant data points. Here’s the first:

High school football enrollment is down 4.5 percent over the past decade, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

This is leading some high schools to disband their football teams – something that is shocking to the average American. The article cites several causes, including worries about concussions, as well as an increasing number of immigrant families for whom football (in the American sense) is not relevant.

While these may be the underlying causes for the decline of high school football participation, there’s another surface cause that affects things.

Youth levels of football, leagues high schools lean on as feeder systems, saw a nearly 30 percent drop in participation between 2008 and 2013, according to data collected by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

That’s an even bigger drop, with ramifications for the future of high school football.

But that’s not what concerns me – and you. What should concern us is when we extrapolate these numbers.

After all, if a decline in youth football leads to a decline in high school football, what does that mean for the future of college football?

And the National Football League?

Will the ranks of football players be decimated, causing the NFL to reduce to four teams and for the television networks to only offer $4.99 to cover NFL games?

Perhaps not.

I don’t know about the youth football figures, but the high school football declines appear to be regional.

More schools are fielding football teams nationwide, albeit with fewer players, led by surges in such states as Oklahoma, Florida and Arkansas, which together have added 150 teams in the past five years. But other regions – namely the Midwest and Northeast – are shedding high school football programs at a significant rate. Michigan has seen a net loss of 57 teams in the past five years. Missouri has lost 24. Pennsylvania has lost 12.

So it could be that future NFL players will come from certain regions of the country. This is not shocking – your average Major League Baseball player is more likely to come from California than from New York.

And perhaps the NFL may end up doing what baseball has been doing for years – importing talent from other countries to do the jobs that Americans don’t want to do. This may be a tall order – the NFL’s attempts to establish professional teams in Europe haven’t worked out – but for the right money, it’s likely that third world ballplayers may be induced to participate in a sport that protective American parents won’t let their kids play.

And you also have to remember that the talent at the top level is limited. Even if youth football declines by 90%, the NFL will still be able to field 32 teams. And perhaps even in that dramatic instance, the quality of the pro game will not diminish significantly, since only the elite of the elite make it to the pros anyway.

What has happened to the sports broadcasting industry in 29 years

On Saturday, May 6, I was in a Goodwill store in Santa Clarita (Canyon Country), California, and found myself in the book section. I was eyeing a 1988 book entitled Sports for Sale: Television, Money, and the Fans by David A. Klatell and Norman Marcus. I was intrigued by the predictions on the back of the book jacket.


So, in the interests of journalism, I spent the two bucks on the book, knowing that I would probably end up writing about these “provocative findings and conclusions,” some of which were spot-on, others of which were a little off. Plus, it appears that the authors were unable to anticipate one huge change in the future – hint: you’re using it to read these words right now, unless you’ve already quit reading this to search for NBA playoff highlight videos.

As is the case with post-mortems on failed predictions, my intent will not be to criticize those who made the flawed prediction, but to discern what circumstances led to the flawed prediction. (Not that Klatell would care what I think; he passed away last year.)

I’m not prepared to write about these predictions yet; as I write this, I’m only on page 10 of the book. But I can already see a number of the difficulties that the authors would encounter. Remember – this book was written in 1988. Back then, ABC Sports was still a very strong sports brand, and I don’t think that anyone could conceive of that brand disappearing entirely. Fox Sports did not even exist – heck, the Fox Broadcasting Company itself was only two years old.

But the most shocking indicator of the changes between 1988 and 2017 can be found in this passage, found on page 10.

On the other hand, we not only remember certain television images, we also recall where we were when we saw them, who was with us at the time, and how they made us feel. We remember Olga Korbut’s charm, O. J. Simpson’s grace, Muhammad Ali’s bag of tricks, Celtics’ pride, Mets’ arrogance, and Dodger Blue…

Those who remember O. J. Simpson today and, um, “remember certain television images” may not associate the word “grace” with him.

(And there have been plenty of other changes with the other personalities named. In 1998, Korbut’s country was Communist and the U.S. President had recently referred to it as an “evil empire.” And the Dodgers were fresh off winning a World Series – how many more World Series would the O’Malley-owned team win over the coming decades?)

This should be an interesting read, even if Kirkus Reviews panned the book when it was published. I predict that I’ll come back later with more thoughts as I read it.

When mandatory police cams become public entertainment

“Excuse me,” Steve said to the waitress. “I specifically asked that you substitute bacon for the ground beef in my triple bacon burger.”

Steve and Kim were enjoying – well, Kim was enjoying – a brief lunch break from work.

As the waitress corrected Steve’s order, he turned to Kim. “So, what are you doing tonight after work?”

“I’m going to watch the police webcams,” she replied.

“What, the ones in New York City?” asked Steve.

“No, our local police department has them now. If you go to the Cams page at their website, you can see streaming video from every police officer who is on duty.”

It was true. While police webcams became more popular way back in 2014 after the Ferguson incident and the Ray Rice case, some people still felt that the police were hiding something. As the years went on, more and more police departments adopted transparency rules, and by the time that Kim and Steve were enjoying their bacon-infused lunch, several police departments were not only equipping every police officer and police car with a webcam, but were also providing real-time public access to these feeds. The goal in providing these feeds was to not only provide complete transparency into police operations, but also to educate the public on the dangers that police officers faced every day as they patrolled their communities.

As with any technological advance, however, the lofty goals of the originators were soon replaced by other goals. The streams themselves became revenue sources for the police agencies, as anyone who accessed the feeds had to sit through commercials for bail bond companies, defense attorneys, and Progressive Insurance. And the audience, rather than consisting of civil libertarians monitoring police activity, ended up as a bunch of teens watching voyeuristically.

Even Kim, who worked for a public safety software provider, found herself addicted to the feeds. She especially liked them when officers Jim and Pat (no last names used) were on patrol on Saturday nights. While most of the shift work was frankly boring, there was always the chance that Jim and Pat would run into some drug-crazed citizen who was trying to get to Disneyland via Frisbee. She still retained the video in which one citizen boldly shouted, “You can’t touch me! I know Officer Jim,” only to receive the reply, “I am Officer Jim. And I’m taking you to the station to get booked.”

As she was telling all of this to Steve, Kim noticed two officers walking into the restaurant – and then immediately noticed a young teenage boy running toward the officers, his face pointing directly at the camera on one of the officers’ chests.

“18th Street rules!” the teen shouted at the camera. Then looking at the officers’ faces, he shouted, “And what are you going to do – shoot me? You’re being watched! 18th Street!”

As the teen raced out of the restaurant, Kim heard one of the officers say something.

“Too bad for him that we were off duty and our cameras were turned off.”

Live from Stamford, it’s the Sochi Olympics!

Remember my post from last month that predicted a time when the only people at a sporting event would be the players?

That time may be closer than we think.

Of course, the idea that EVERYONE has to be at a sporting event is a relatively new concept. Back in the days that Ronald Reagan was a radio baseball announcer, he and his fellow announcers often broadcast games from a studio, heavily dependent upon a stream of information from Western Union.

That offended modern sensibilities, and companies subsequently insisted that their announcers actually attend the games that they were broadcasting. And they did; during Monday Night Football’s heyday, the arrival of Gifford, Cosell, and Meredith in an NFL city was regarding as the circus coming to town.

But now, the pendulum is swinging back a bit.

If you live outside of Los Angeles, you may think that Petros Papadakis and Matt “Money” Smith have disappeared from the radio entirely. The truth is, however, that their show – initially local, then national – has gone local again. And on Thursday’s local show, Papadakis was talking about his Sunday night television partner, Fred Roggin, who had left Los Angeles to cover the Olympics. But Roggin hadn’t gone to Sochi, Russia – he had gone to Stamford, Connecticut.

Roggin, however, is a host, and hosts are usually broadcasting from some studio or another. It’s not like the Sochi Olympic play-by-play announcers were going to be in faraway Connecticut, would they?

Well, actually…

“We have a team in Stamford that will be grabbing event highlights, interviews with athletes, medals ceremonies, feature stories, amazing finishes,” [NBC Sports editorial VP Tom] Seeley said. “They will produce about 100 clips a day, long-form replays plus short-form clips of three to five minutes.”

It also means curling coverage, live from Russia and Stamford….

During curling competition in Sochi, video “will be coming to Stamford over digital paths,” [NBC Sports engineering VP Tim] Canary said. “The matches will come with natural sound, but the voicing will be done in Stamford. We will put curling experts in an announce booth and they will do play-by-play. So viewers will be hearing a call done in Stamford for a match being played in Russia.”

Unfortunately, these announcers will not be supported by Western Union.

Why is the Rose Bowl called a bowl?

(If E.M. Forster’s fiction becomes reality, it will be realized in incremental steps.)

Bob and Judy were in the basement, celebrating New Year’s Day in their entertainment center. The display screen, which Bob and Judy still occasionally called a “TV,” was currently displaying the items that were going to be delivered to their home in the next half hour. Bob and Judy, Luddites that they were, still liked to order real meat, and occasionally Judy would even contact the specialty stores and have them drone some organic meat over to them.

The order perused, Bob switched the display back to the Huffington Entertainment Channel, just in time to hear an announcement about the forthcoming Rose Bowl football game. This year’s matchup appeared to be a competitive one, in which Ohio State was cast to face Reed College.


Bob turned to Judy. “I’m bored,” he said. “Do you think our grandson’s awake yet?”

“Probably,” Judy replied.

“Are you up for an adventure?” Bob asked.

Judy nodded, and went to wake North up.

North walked into the basement eating a bowl of Soylent. “North,” asked his grandfather, “how would you like to go to the Rose Bowl today to watch the football game?”

North looked puzzled. “What do you mean, go to the Rose Bowl?”

Judy smiled. “Well, instead of watching the game on the TV – I mean display – we can go right to where the game is being played. Did you know that it’s being played in Pasadena, just a few miles from here?”

North still looked puzzled. “Why would you want to do that?”

Bob smiled. “Because then you could be right there and see the players as they play, rather than watching it through the display!”

North remained silent as Bob continued. “There are actually seats surrounding the field, and we can sit in them and watch the players!”

North’s puzzled look returned. “But then you wouldn’t get all the camera angles and the supplemental information feeds. Are the seats more comfortable than the seats in this room?”

Despite the fact that they hadn’t been in a stadium for decades, Bob and Judy quickly answered, “No.”

Judy smiled. “But it’s an experience that you’ll never forget. Back when Grandpa and I were kids, tens of thousands of people would go to the Rose Bowl just to watch the game. I don’t want you to miss this. You’re coming with us.”

“OK,” said North in a grudging tone. “But this sounds weird.”

30 minutes later, the car had deposited them at the Rose Bowl, and they stood outside in the sun. Each of them was wearing a (southern California) winter jacket, and they weren’t used to them.

“What is that Tickets building?” asked North, gesturing to an empty structure.

“Well,” explained Bob, “years ago, people would pay lots of money to come here and sit in the stadium and watch the game. Some people paid hundreds of dollars for the tickets alone, which was a lot of money in those days. And if a team from Ohio were playing in the Rose Bowl, then thousands of people from Ohio would fly in airplanes to Pasadena and stay here for several days, culminating in the big game.”

“I know it seems silly,” Bob continued, “but back when my parents were kids, displays often had a screen size of less than 30 inches. And the entertainment channels just showed the game, without the supplementary information, and with just two or three people talking about it. Back in those days, you’d actually have a better time going to the game itself than trying to watch it on a tiny little TV – I mean display.”

As Bob talked, the three of them walked past the empty ticket building and entered the stadium. Unlike the scene at previous Rose Bowls, the stands only contained a few hundred spectators, mostly older people like Bob and Judy. Ticket sales had ceased 20 years ago, and there was even talk of eliminating the physical game – and all physical football games – altogether, and just asking the Madden Company (named for a 20th century football figure and early game pioneer) to create simulations for the games.

Despite the empty stadium, football was still football, although the rules that had emerged over the years tended to favor the offense over the defense. Rare was the game in which either team scored less than 50 points, but there was still some competitive balance in the game, and it was not as ridiculous as it could have been.

Despite the discomfort, North was actually enjoying the game – especially since Reed had jumped out to an early 21-7 lead against Ohio State. He was smiling as he munched on his Soylent snack, and Bob and Judy were smiling also, happy that North could have this experience.

During a break in the action, North turned to his grandparents and asked a question.

“Grandma, Grandpa,” asked North. “Why is it called the ROSE Bowl?”

Bob and Judy found themselves at a loss for words.

Take me out coach, I don’t know how to play

Songwriters write about the things they know, which can cause some difficulties when the song is heard by people of different cultures. I was one of many people who had to learn what “vegemite” was when Men at Work’s “Down Under” became popular in the United States. (In a similar fashion, when Midnight Oil sang about “45 degrees” in “Beds Are Burning,” it took me a while to realize that the band was talking about very hot temperatures.)

But what of the effect of time on song lyric interpretation?

In the early 1970s, Joe Walsh composed and recorded a song called “Rocky Mountain Way.” His European fans were presumably puzzled by some of the lyrics:

Bases are loaded and Casey’s at bat
Playin’ it play by play
Time to change the batter

Even those Americans who were not familiar with the 1888 poem “Casey at the Bat” still knew what sport Walsh was discussing. And although there was no major league baseball team in Colorado at the time – the Rockies would not come until much later – the Triple A Denver Bears were playing in the state in 1973, the year the record was released.

Since 1973, there has of course been one famous song that referenced baseball – John Fogerty’s “Centerfield.”

But what about today’s music? How often does the beloved national pastime crop up in 21st century songs?

I thought of this when listening to a Los Angeles Sparks commercial on the radio. The Sparks, of course, are a team in the Women’s National Basketball Association, and unlike the men, they play on a summer schedule. So when advertising on Los Angeles sports radio, and bearing in mind that the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers had been eliminated from the NBA playoffs, and the Los Angeles Kings had been eliminated from the NHL playoffs, the Sparks chose to advertise that they are now “the only game in town.”

And for many in Los Angeles, the Sparks truly are the only game in town. The Los Angeles Dodgers, and Rita Moreno of Arte’s baseball team down the freeway, have no meaning in their lives.

Don’t believe me? Look at the statistics. Brad Wells wrote the following in October – yes, October – 2010.

Last night, a boring Monday Night Football contest between two back-up quarterbacks in the city of Jacksonville drew a better TV rating (7.2 percent) than the American League Championship Series (ALCS) playoff game between the New York Yankees and the Texas Rangers. That game drew a terrible 6.5.

And according to a 2003 report from Gallup, baseball has long since disappeared from the national consciousness:

For many years, Gallup has asked Americans which sport is their “favorite sport to watch.” Baseball, long known as the national pastime, easily topped the list from 1937-1960, with slightly more than one in three Americans naming it as their favorite sport. But a 1972 Gallup Poll showed football overtaking baseball as Americans’ favorite sport, a distinction it continues to hold today. Meanwhile, the percentage claiming baseball as their favorite sport has continued to decline, while basketball and auto racing are increasing their popularity. Gallup’s most recent data, from December 2002, show 37% of Americans saying football is their favorite sport, followed by basketball at 13% and baseball at 12%.

And considering the steriod issues that plagued baseball after 2003 – things to which Wells alluded in his article – I suspect that baseball’s popularity has not reversed its course.

So if you want to speak cryptically among today’s youth, sprinkle phrases such as “bats four hundred” and “three and two” into your conversation. They’ll have no idea what you’re talking about.

Why Lem Barney is probably wrong about the future of football, even though he’s right

Lem Barney is a former professional football player who, according to USA Today, had some interesting things to say about his former livelihood.

Lem Barney is an NFL legend, a Hall of Famer who made his living playing football.

And he wouldn’t do it again.

Speaking Friday at the Sound Mind Sound Body Camp in Southfield, Mich., the Detroit Lions great said the sport would be gone within the next two decades….

“It’s a great game, and I think it’s the greatest game if you like gladiators. It’s the greatest game for yesteryear’s gladiators. But in the next 10 to 20 years, society will alleviate football altogether because of how strong it’s becoming, how big it’s becoming and the tenacity that it already is. And it’s only going to get worse.”

Barney was on a panel with some college football coaches, who (according to writer Mark Snyder) “appeared frozen” when Barney made his statements.

Maybe the coaches had suffered concussions themselves.

However, despite the numerous issues with people who suffered from football concussions, I’m not sure that Barney is right about the demise of football – even with Gregg Doyel’s 2012 input into the conversation:

Today it’s Troy Aikman saying he’s not sure he would let his son play football. Soon it’ll be the young parent down the street. Then more of them. And more.

You can’t play football without football players.

While Doyel’s statement is true, there are a number of businesses that are dependent upon advertising to football players, and there are a number of teams that need football revenue, and there are a number of cities that need football gate receipts.

And even if every parent in every one of the 50 United States refuses to let their kids play football, the advertisers and the teams and the cities will ensure that a steady supply of new football players can be acquired from outside of the country. They may even get their friends in Congress – themselves dependent upon the money and the votes supplied by these stakeholders – to approve new visa regulations to get professional football players into this country to do the job that no American is willing to do.

And with a steady supply of impoverished football players from the third and fourth worlds, football will hum along.

Creating a fake paper trail in the paperless era

While fraud has in some respects remained the same over hundreds or thousands of years, the tools used to commit fraud have certainly changed.

Years ago, people would commit fraud by creating false receipts and the like.

Now they commit fraud by creating fake websites.

When baseball player Melky Cabrera was found to have ingested a banned substance in violation of Major League Baseball’s anti-drug policy, Cabrera noticed a possible out in MLB’s rules.

The idea, apparently, was to lay a trail of digital breadcrumbs suggesting Cabrera had ordered a supplement that ended up causing the positive test, and to rely on a clause in the collectively bargained drug program that allows a player who has tested positive to attempt to prove he ingested a banned substance through no fault of his own.

So how could Cabrera “prove” that he inadvertently ingested a banned substance?

San Francisco Giants star Melky Cabrera created a fictitious website and a nonexistent product designed to prove he inadvertently took the banned substance that caused a positive test under Major League Baseball’s drug program….

Cabrera associate Juan Nunez, described by the player’s agents, Seth and Sam Levinson, as a “paid consultant” of their firm but not an “employee,” is alleged to have paid $10,000 to acquire the phony website.

Unfortunately for Cabrera, the ruse didn’t work:

MLB’s department of investigations quickly began asking questions about the website and the “product” — Where was the site operating from? Who owned it? What kind of product was it? — and quickly discovered that an existing website had been altered, adding an ad for the product, a topical cream, that didn’t exist.

Now Cabrera is in much more trouble than he was originally. But this is something that James Ulvog has been saying for years – because, regardless of the technology used to perpetrate fraud, the consequences of fraud are always devastating:

Remember when you tossed a rock out into a calm lake? The ripples of the splash spread far. You can see the ripple bounce off a rock or the shore and have a reflected ripple spread across the lake. If the water is very calm, you can see the ripples spread out a long ways from the initial splash. It is the same way with fraud. The devastation just spreads and spreads.

Cleaning up college sports…in 1954

On June 22, after a jury convicted former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky of multiple counts of child molestation, Penn State released a statement that concluded as follows:

Now that the jury has spoken, the University wants to continue that dialogue and do its part to help victims continue their path forward. To that end, the University plans to invite victims of Mr. Sandusky’s abuse to participate in a program to facilitate the resolution of claims against the University arising out of Mr. Sandusky’s conduct. The purpose of the program is simple – the University wants to provide a forum where the University can privately, expeditiously and fairly address the victims’ concerns and compensate them for claims relating to the University. Counsel to the University plan to reach out to counsel to the victims of Mr. Sandusky’s abuse in the near future with additional details.

When CBS Sports published this press release, the majority of reaction was negative. Nova Goodman stated the problem succinctly:

Paying money is easier than doing the right thing.

As the commenters discussed “the right thing,” various temporary suspensions of the football program were bandied about. But in a November 2011 post, The 312 shared a more radical concept that would probably floor the most rabid Sandusky hater – eliminate intercollegiate sports at Penn State altogether. Why would The 312 share this concept? Because a University in The 312’s area – the University of Chicago – actually did this in 1939, under the leadership of then-President Robert Maynard Hutchins. Today the University plays football, but does not award scholarships.

Was this self-imposed “death penalty” controversial? Well, here’s what a Chicago Tribune writer said:

There’s a school down in Arkansas called Commonwealth College which never has had a football team. . . . It was found by and is operated for communists. . . .

And the athletic director at one university said the following:

“Since he [Hutchins] has the physique of a Sir Galahad, he is convinced that he speaks with authority…. Many [college presidents] share your fears, but they have not run away from the problem or washed their hands of it.”

And which football party school shared that sentiment? Harvard University.

Which brings us to 1954, 15 years after the University of Chicago eliminated its football program. In that year Robert Hutchins wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated. One paragraph of that piece elaborates on the reasons why intercollegiate sports will never be cleaned up, and why scandals will continue to occur.

Are there any conditions under which intercollegiate football can be an asset to a college or university? I think not. There are conditions under which it can be less of a nuisance, or a less infernal nuisance. These conditions are hard to bring about and still harder to maintain. If you should succeed, you will do so only with an expenditure of time and effort that could more profitably be devoted to other things. The first requirement is agreement on the part of your constituency that the institution is to be represented by students, and by students who have come to the college in the ordinary way, with no special inducements, and who are staying in college following the regular curriculum, with no special treatment. The second requirement is even more difficult; you have to find convenient rivals of about the same size, whose constituencies have the same convictions. For if they have not, you will be continuously and unmercifully defeated, and this is something that your constituency will not be able to stand indefinitely. On this rock all the great attempts of the last 30 years to “clean up” or “de-emphasize” football have split; intercollegiate football is no “cleaner” or less emphasized now than it was in 1925 because the temptation to break the rules of a conference becomes irresistible sooner or later to some of the members of it. You then have a scandal, a clean-up, new resolutions, and the process goes on as before.

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