“Blue Collar” as a Sports Marketing Gimmick

blue collarIn a just-released Episode 62 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, I reminisce with our founding producer Drew Dyrli Hermeling about the time we may have offended ESPN’s Paul Lukas, a historian of sports uniforms and founder of Uni-Watch.  Listen to our interview with Lukas in Episode 7.

Lukas has a great piece at The New Republic on the way sports teams use the label “blue-collar” as an “attitude, a lifestyle, a brand, a hashtag.”  Here is a taste:

Earlier this month, the New York Giants held a press conference to introduce their new head coach, Joe Judge. In between the usual football clichés about how the Giants will “play aggressive” and have a “physical attitude” under his leadership, Judge dipped his toe into the pool of class consciousness. “I want this team to reflect this area. That is blue-collar. It’s hard work,” he said. “We’re gonna come to work every day and grind it out the way they do in their jobs every day.” That same day, Mississippi State University announced that it had hired Mike Leach as its new head football coach. The school’s athletic director, John Cohen, issued a statement praising Leach for, among other things, his “blue-collar approach” to football.

These were just the latest examples of a phenomenon that the sports world shares with politics: a strong desire to be associated with the working class, often in ways that strain logic and credulity.

The sports world’s blue-collar roots are real enough. The Green Bay Packers got their name from a meatpacking company that originally sponsored the team. The Detroit Pistons got theirs because their first owner ran a piston foundry. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ logo is based on the “Steelmark” originally used by U.S. Steel. And before the days of multimillion-dollar contracts, pro athletes routinely worked regular jobs during the off-season—often in blue-collar trades—to make ends meet.

Those days are long gone, but that hasn’t stopped teams from trying to establish their working-class bona fides. While the trope isn’t new, it has become unavoidable in recent years, especially in the realm of team marketing and branding.

Read the rest here.

Indeed, this idea of playing sports in a “blue-collar” fashion has been around for a long time.  This phrase seems to be always associated with a team that makes up for its lack of talent with a heavy dose of grit, determination, and hard work.

My public high school lacrosse coach often described our team as “blue collar” as a way of motivating us whenever we played an expensive prep school.  Football teams that run the ball (“3 yards and a cloud of dust”) are often described as playing “old school” or “blue-collar” ball. (Are the 2020 San Fransisco 49ers a blue collar team?).  In basketball, athletes committed to playing defense, rebounding, and diving for loose balls in the open court are often called “blue collar.” Blue collar baseball players–like Pete Rose–are known for their “hustle” on the base-paths and hear-first dives.  Some have made the case that ice-hockey is a blue-collar sport.

I’ll close this post by linking to an article in The Guardian announcing that “every single US sports team is blue collar.”

Trump in Tuscaloosa

Trump blowup

After he was booed in Washington D.C. at the World Series and in New York at a UFC fight, Donald Trump appears to have found a generally friendly audience in Tuscaloosa, Alabama at a University of Alabama football game.  ESPN explains:

Trump, sitting one tier above the field, waved as fans turned around to look up at the president. He smiled, gave a thumbs-up a few times and threw a couple of fist bumps into the air as the Alabama fans waved red and white pompoms in response. First lady Melania Trump got an equally enthusiastic welcome.

While the president might have received a largely warm reception inside the stadium, there were also signs of protest in Tuscaloosa before the game.

An inflatable figure depicting a baby Donald Trump wearing a diaper, which has been seen at protests around the world, was set up in a park but was deflated after being attacked with a knife. Jim Girvan, the organizer of a group that “adopts” out the Baby Trump balloons for protests, said a man charged the 20-foot balloon and cut an 8-foot-long gash in the back. Girvan said the unidentified man was arrested, and videos on social media showed police detaining a man nearby. Tuscaloosa police did not immediately respond to a request for more details.

Robert Kennedy, a volunteer “babysitter” who brought the balloon to Tuscaloosa, said the balloon immediately began to sag after it was cut. The day had been going mostly smoothly, Kennedy said, with some people yelling, “Trump 2020” as they passed while others posed for selfies with the balloon.

Elsewhere, one protester carried a sign that said, “Roll Tide Impeach 45,” and a woman held a signing saying she had sold her game ticket and donated the money to the Alabama Democratic Party. But there were more pro-Trump signs. One woman wore an oversized red MAGA hat and carried a sign saying: “Make BAMA #1 Again.” There were flags emblazoned with “Trump 2020” and banners that read: “Keep America Great Trump 2020.”

There was also plenty of bipartisan grumbling about the long lines to get in to the game due to enhanced security.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is Another Piece on Today’s BYU-Liberty Football Game

Liberty Trump

Earlier this morning I wrote about the matchup between these two faith-based football programs.  Here is a much better piece than the one to which I linked.  Deseret News writer Ethan Bauer talked to Liberty University president Jerry Falwell Jr., controversial Liberty University athletic director Ian McGaw, Bentley University historian Clifford Putney, and Bethel University historian Chris Gehrz, among others.

Here is a taste:

…since Falwell Jr. became Liberty’s president in 2007 following his father’s death, he’s labored to elevate the program. Thanks to an influx of money from online adult education, he’s invested $1.6 billion in infrastructure projects, many related to athletics. They include a $32 million athletic administration building, new swimming and indoor track and field complexes, and a $29 million indoor football practice facility. Critics say Liberty is tilting too much toward athletics, but Falwell dismisses those comments.

It’s kind of comical to me when people say Liberty has left its original mission to go big-time in sports, because that was the original mission,” he said.

In 2017, when Liberty finally started moving to the FBS level, the top tier of college football, BYU was among the first calls athletic director Ian McCaw made.

Texas Christian, Southern Methodist and Baylor are all religious schools that have thrived on the gridiron, but BYU — along with Notre Dame — was Liberty’s role model. In fact, Falwell Jr. said the “LU” that decorates Liberty Mountain in Lynchburg was inspired by a trip to Utah some 15 years ago, when he saw the Y.

“BYU is very much a program that we aspire towards as a faith-based school that’s had tremendous success,” McCaw said, “including winning the national championship.”

Saturday the Flames arrive with firepower. Liberty (6-3) ranks 19th in the nation in passing offense. Senior quarterback Stephen Calvert’s 293 yards passing per game rank 13th, and senior wideout Antonio Gandy-Golden ranks third among receivers in yards per game.

Nevertheless, Liberty’s weak schedule means it hasn’t been tested much, and BYU (4-4) is favored by 17 points. The significance of conquering those long odds can’t be overstated, and Falwell decided to attend the game this week on the off chance it happens (which would also make Liberty bowl eligible for the first time).

“It’d be more than just an upset,” he said. “It’d be the culmination of 48 years of planning and a 48-year vision for Liberty.”

Either way, Falwell has several things in common with the Cougar faithful, notably their belief in God and shared enthusiasm for what some may see as an unholy act: Men battering each other in secular cathedrals in pursuit of victory, trophies and SportsCenter highlights.

Read the entire piece here.

ADDENDUM: BYU 31 Liberty 24

Brigham Young University vs. Liberty University

 

BYU

It should be an interesting Saturday in the world of sports.

# 10 Hope College plays # 3 Calvin University in the championship game of the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.  The winner gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national tournament, which starts next weekend.

#2 Louisiana State plays #3 Alabama in college football.  Donald Trump will be in Tuscaloosa for the game.

In the Big Ten, I am intrigued by the matchup between two undefeated teams as #4 Penn States goes to #17 Minnesota.  I want to see if Minnesota is for real.

Finally, it will be a very interesting match-up between two very religious Division I college football teams when Liberty heads to Provo to play BYU.  BYU is 4-4, but they are a dangerous and unpredictable team.   They lost to Toledo, but beat Southern California and Boise State.  Liberty has been beating-up on a lot of bad teams, but they lost to Charleston Southern, Syracuse, Rutgers, and Louisiana-Lafayette.

As we have noted here on several occasions, Liberty wants to be a school that takes its religious identity seriously and still maintains a strong football power.   They aspire to be the an evangelical BYU (Mormon) or Notre Dame (Catholic).

Over at the KSL Sports blog, Mitch Harper explores this game from a religious perspective.  Here is taste:

Saturday’s game in Provo might be one of the rare times BYU lines up against a program that has as strict of an honor code as the Cougars. Just a decade ago, Liberty required it’s students as part of their honor code to wear polos and slacks.

Students at both BYU and Liberty are prohibited from premarital sex, alcohol, and tobacco usage. So it makes for a unique matchup in terms of the backgrounds for both schools.

“I think there’s a lot of similarities. I know that they have an honor code as well. It’s going to be a fun game,” said BYU head coach Kalani Sitake. “I know they’re new to the Independent stage and this division. They’ve played some really tough teams. I think they played Syracuse and Rutgers right away … I think we’re going to have to be ready for this and our guys have to keep improving….”

“Not only does Liberty get a chance to expand its brand and put its name out there for Evangelical Christians but it also has an opportunity to become bowl eligible and get a chance to go to a bowl game for the first time in program history,” said Liberty beat writer Damien Sordelett of The News & Advance on KSL’s Cougar Tracks Podcast.

Read the entire piece here.

Yet Another Piece About Liberty University’s Quest to Become the “Evangelical Notre Dame”

94da9-liberty-university-eddie-armstrong

These articles show-up every now and then.  I’ve written about them here and here and here.

Here is a taste of J. Brady McCollough’s long-form piece at the Los Angeles Times:

Signs offering football ticket discounts cover the campus, and posters of the team’s new coach, Hugh Freeze, encourage the effort to “Rise With Us.” Clearly, there is room at Liberty for the country’s Saturday religion.

Falwell Sr. had a vision of Liberty being for Evangelical Christians what Notre Dame is for Catholics and Brigham Young is for Mormons, and the newest team in major college football is not subtle with its imagery. The Flames wear red, white and blue. Their mascot is a bald eagle.

Read the entire piece here.

Some thoughts:

  1. This article is mostly about football.  Liberty’s quest to become an evangelical Notre Dame is never framed in terms of academics, intellectual life, or research.  At one point in the article, McCollough says, “To be a worthwhile university, Jerry Falwell Jr. thought, you needed to have two elements at the front: music and athletics.”  Really?
  2. Liberty University, with its vast resources, could be evangelicalism’s best chance at developing a serious research university.  But it won’t happen until the university offers tenure for faculty, invests money in faculty research, and broadens the doctrinal requirements placed upon faculty.  Falwell Jr.’s is not committed to these things.  In fact, the president’s rabid support for Donald Trump has seriously damaged any such advance and has probably set it back a few decades.
  3. Will Liberty University ever become the “evangelical Notre Dame” in football?  I doubt it.  I don’t think there are enough evangelicals who play football.  I could be wrong about this, but Liberty will never be anything more than a mid-major football program. Sure, they will occasionally pull-off an upset victory (remember Appalachian State and, more recently, Georgia State), but this will not make them a perennial power.  (Update: Syracuse shut-out Liberty on Saturday).

The Origins of Whiffle Ball

Whiffle

I’ve played a lot of it in my day, but until I read David Kindy’s piece at Smithsonian.com I knew nothing about the origins of the game.

Here is a taste of Kindy’s “How Whiffle Ball Came to Be“:

Patented in 1957, the lightweight plastic Wiffle Ball comes with slots on one side to make it easier to throw curves and other pitches without putting undue stress on young arms. It was invented three years earlier by David Mullany, who got the idea after watching his namesake son playing a makeshift game of baseball with his brother and friends in the front yard of their home. Instead of a regulation ball and bat, they were using a plastic golf ball and broomstick in an attempt to keep from breaking windows or having to chase home runs down the street.

“My father complained his arm was hurting from trying to throw curves with that small ball,” says the third David Mullany, who is currently president of The Wiffle Ball, Inc. “My grandfather figured he could come up with something better for them to play with.”

As luck would have it, the senior Mullany, a businessman who was between jobs at the time, knew someone at Coty Perfume, which at the time packaged its product in a hard plastic container about the size of a baseball. He asked for samples and began whittling designs to see which worked best for pitching. After several rounds of trial and error, he hit upon a prototype with eight oblong cuts on one half of the ball, which made it easy for anyone to throw a curve or other spinning pitch.

The kids loved it and soon Mullany could see the potential for it growing beyond his own front yard. He designed it with William Blamey and applied for a patent in 1954, which was granted three years later under the simple title “Game Ball.” U.S. patent 2,776,139 describes the invention as being durable, lightweight and inexpensive to produce. Because of the holes, it also read, the ball “will vary in flight when thrown and when struck.”

Read the entire piece here.

Is the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s Fight for Equality Rooted in Christian Faith?

Soccer

I don’t know the answer to this question.  But it is an interesting one.

Megan Rapinoe is getting a lot of attention today, as she should. I don’t know if she is a religious person, but if she is a person of deep religious faith she is not alone on the women’s national team that just won the World Cup.

Religious belief has been an under-explored dimension of this team’s incredible run on the World Cup pitch.  I also wonder if it has anything to do with their activism off the pitch.

Several members of the team appear to be very serious Christians.

Alyssa Naeher, the goalie who made the game-winning save in the semifinals against England, attended Christian Heritage School in Trumbull, Connecticut.  Her twin sister, Amanda, is a pretty good soccer player in her own right.  During her stellar career at Messiah College, Amanda was a two-time NCAA Division III National Player of the Year. She was part of two NCAA national championship teams.  I not only looked this up, but I also spent many hours with my young daughters watching her play.  Amanda is currently the head soccer coach at Charlotte Christian, the school that has brought us NBA stars Stephen and Seth Curry.

From what I have been able to gather through interviews and social media, Alyssa does not seem to flaunt her Christianity.  But every now and then she posts a tweet like this:

Over at Faithwire, Lindsay Elizabeth writes about the Christian faith of Tobin Heath and Julie Ertz.

At Catholic Vote, Katie Yoder covers the Christian commitments of Heath, Ertz, (and her husband, Philadelphia Eagles player Zach Ertz), Crystal Dunn, Rose Lavelle, Mallory Pugh, Jessica McDonald, Emily Sonnett, and Morgan Brian.

I think we need to get Baylor University sports historian Paul Putz to break this all down for us.

Tony Bennett, Evangelicalism, and University of Virginia Basketball

Bennett

Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the University of Virginia, was no evangelical.  But he was a champion of religious liberty and had a lot of support among Virginia evangelicals when he ran for president in 1800. So it is unclear what he would have thought about an evangelical running his school’s national championship basketball program.

UVA coach Tony Bennett has been outspoken about his evangelical faith.  His faith has been covered by the Billy Graham Evangelistic AssociationThe Daily Progress,  the Baptist Press, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and Heavy.  (The Washington Post discussed how he handled racism during 2017 white nationalist invasion of Charlottesville, but says nothing about his Christian faith).

Following his team’s national championship victory on Monday night, Bennett told Jim Nantz that he had played a Christian song titled “Hills and Valleys” to get his team ready for the game.  This song must have had special meaning for Bennett.  Last March, Bennett’s UVA program was definitely in the “valley” after it became the first #1 seed to lose to a #16 seed (UMBC). (It should be no surprise that Bennett received a text from former NFL coach and motivational speaker Tony Dungy after the loss to UMBC).

The lyrics of “Hills and Valleys” focus on God’s faithfulness during the joy and pain of life:

I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowestplace
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away

No matter what I have, Your grace is enough
No matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

I’ve watched my dreams get broken

In you I hope again!
No matter what I know
Know I’m safe inside Your hand

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

Father, you give and take away
Every joy and every pain
Through it all you will remain
Over it all!

On the mountains, I will bow my life
To the one who set me there (to the one who set me there)
In the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there
When I’m standing on the mountain aft, didn’t get there on my own
When I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!
You’re God of the hills and valleys!
Hills and Valleys!
God of the hills and valleys
And I am not alone!

Frankly, it’s refreshing to see Bennett invoke a song that celebrates God’s faithfulness in the wins AND the losses.

The role that Bennett’s faith plays in his coaching is covered well in Jonathan Adams’s piece at Heavy. Here is a taste:

Virginia coach Tony Bennett is outspoken about his Christian faith and how it shapes his work with players. During the 2019 NCAA tournament, Bennett noted his faith helps him through stressful situations in games.

“You certainly feel things – things bother you, but where does peace and perspective come from? And I always tell our guys: It’s got to be something that is unconditional,” Bennett said, per Christian Headlines. “And I know I have that in the love of my family – unconditional acceptance and love. That’s huge. And I know I have that in my faith in Christ. That’s, for me, where I draw my strength from – my peace, my steadiness in the midst of things.”

Bennett committed to being a Christian while he was attending a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp when he was 14, per Decision magazine. The Virginia coach emphasizes five pillars to his players, and the tenets have become a staple of the Virginia program. Bennett drew upon Biblical principals to create the five pillars: humility, passion, unity, servanthood and thankfulness. Former Virginia player Joe Harris spoke with Decision magazine about the impact these pillars have had on his life beyond basketball.

“You can apply those pillars to the rest of your life, not just basketball,” Harris noted to Decision. “I always tell people that being at Virginia with coach Bennett helped me in a huge developmental standpoint as a basketball player, but that I developed even more as a person.”

Something tells me Jefferson would still be happy with the UVA win.

Out of the Zoo: “March Madness”

March Madness

I challenged my boyfriend Nolan to a March Madness bracket competition last month, with little success.

Annie Thorn is a first-year history major from Kalamazoo, Michigan and our intern here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  As part of her internship she will be writing a weekly column for us titled “Out of the Zoo.”  It will focus on life as a history major at a small liberal arts college. This week she writes about her the “March Madness” and her history of sports class.  Enjoy! –JF

To be completely honest, I don’t know a whole lot about sports. While I consider myself an athlete–I ran track and cross country in high school–I’m usually pretty clueless when it comes to following organized athletics. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy sports, and I’m usually more than willing to sit down and watch a game, but ask me which college team is ranked highest in the country, or which player is a shoe-in for rookie-of-the-year, there’s no way I would be able to provide you with an accurate answer.

My boyfriend Nolan, on the other hand, knows a lot more about sports than I do. For one, he’s played more than I have–track, football and power lifting now, but basketball, baseball and soccer in the past as well. He follows sports too, and on the couple occasions I’ve watched games with him I’m reminded of how little I truly know about athletics. Nolan knows all about which teams are good and which ones aren’t; he knows which players to keep an eye on and which ones to disregard.

All this being said, I should have known that challenging Nolan to a March Madness bracket competition was a fool’s errand from the start. Nonetheless, I downloaded the ESPN app, joined the group he made for the two of us, and with little informed strategy made my picks. For the fun of it we added a friendly wager into the equation–whoever’s bracket lost, we decided, would plan (and pay for) a fancy date for the other as soon as I came home for the summer. As the NCAA tournament comes to a close and my bracket continues to suffer more hits, my chances of winning the bet are looking slim to none, little to my surprise. Even so, the contest has provided an extra way for Nolan and I to have a little fun, and to keep connected while I’m away at school.

Our March Madness bet reminds me of an overarching theme I’ve been learning in my Sports, Race, and Politics class this semester; namely, that sports bring people together–and they have for a long time. Before people hosted extravagant Superbowl parties, sports brought people together. Before loyal fans could stream their favorite college team’s games on their phones, sports still brought people together. Even before ESPN invented a March Madness app that allowed ambitious girlfriends to challenge their long-distance boyfriends to ill-fated bracket wagers, sports brought people together.

Sports, throughout history, have bridged cultural, racial, and geographic barriers. Back in the 19th century, sports allowed immigrants to participate in American society right after stepping onto United States soil. After all, you don’t have to speak the same language as someone else to play a pickup game with them in the street. Sports brought unity among races in other ways as well–as African American athletes like Jessie Owens, Jackie Robinson and Muhammad Ali emerged in the public eye, blacks and whites alike ventured out to the track, baseball diamond, or boxing ring to witness sporting prowess at its finest. While segregation continued to apply within sports arenas even after teams themselves were integrated, games allowed members of both races to come together in the same space to watch the same game and cheer for the same team.

Ever since their arrival in American life, sports have provided a way for athletes and fans alike from all races, income levels, and geographic regions to share a common interest and pursue a common goal.

Mets Magic Was Born 50 Years Ago

Agee

Mets outfielder Tommie Agee made this spectacular catch in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series

Baseball season is here.  Today Jacob deGrom, the reigning National League Cy Young Award-winner, scattered five hits and struck-out twelve Washington Nationals in the 2-0 opening day victory.  Needless to say, I am happy he just signed a long-term contract extension. Robinson Cano homered in his first at-bat as a Met.

It is also worth noting that this season is the fiftieth anniversary of the New York Mets’ 1969 World Series victory over the Baltimore Orioles.  Jay Schreiber has it covered at The New York Times.  Check out his multi-part special report, “The Year the Mets Jumped Over the Moon.”

Here is a taste of the first installment:

Just how had this happened? Yes, the Mets had excellent pitching, solid defense at key positions and some very good young players, but their lineup was hardly overwhelming. And yet, that didn’t matter in the regular season, when the Mets won a whopping 100 games and, in the process, beat out a Chicago Cubs team that played three future Hall of Famers every day.

Nor did it matter in the National League Championship Series, when the Mets swept an Atlanta Braves club led by Henry Aaron, one of the best players in the sport’s history. Or in the World Series, when the Mets went up against a mighty Orioles team anchored by the two Robinsons, Frank and Brooks. The Orioles, winners of 109 games in the regular season, seemed unbeatable until the Mets quickly proved otherwise.

Making this all the more remarkable is that the 1969 Mets did not represent the beginning of a dynasty. In the seasons that followed, the Mets won considerably fewer games and while they did make it back to the World Series in 1973, they did so almost by accident, having finished the regular season with a thoroughly mediocre 82-79 record.

But none of that diminishes what occurred in 1969. Here was a group of players who stumbled all over the place in 1962, with fans who embraced them almost in defiance. A team that slowly improved in the years that followed, but only slowly. And yet a team that proceeded to figure it all out for one intensely memorable season.

I was a preschooler when the Mets won in 1969, but I feel like I re-lived the season through WWOR-TV (Channel 9 in NYC) highlights during Met rain delays in the 1970s.

Sportswriter Compares the Denver Nuggets to Bruce Springsteen

I’m not sure what to make of this.  Writer Mike Olson seems happy that his team has such a “hungry heart.”  Here is a taste:

Love him or hate him, Bruce Springsteen is notorious for his dedication to his audiences, performing his guts out for hours on end through thousands of shows over the course of a 50-plus year career. The average Springsteen concert is longer than the average professional football game, and regularly goes far longer. His longest show ever was four hours and six minutes long, an overseas affair. His longest U.S. concert was in Philadelphia and clocked in at four hours and four minutes. Easy to do when you start out in your teens, right? Not so fast. Bruce knocked out those 244 minutes last October, less than a year shy of his 70th birthday.

The Boss? He’s pretty much a boss.

Consistency breeds a lot of goodness in any discipline, whether you’re a rocker, a croonera sushi chef, or a basketball player. Consistency of thought, of purpose, and of action. Coming out of the All-Star break, your Denver Nuggets had been one of the more surprisingly consistent teams in the league, with winning streaks of seven, six, five (x2), and four (x4) games throughout the season. Stacking that up, 39 of their 43 wins this season have come as a part of a streak that was four games or longer. They also have a few losing streaks sprinkled throughout the season, with four and three (x2) game slips marring one of their best campaigns to date.

Their newfound consistency has also been a massive part of why they’ve won as many games as they have, frequently wearing opponents down in workman-like fashion, enabling them to run away from teams at their best, and stay close enough to reel opponents back in at their worst. Even when their shots weren’t falling, the Nuggets typically stayed in the contest, having been blown out only three times over these first sixty four games.

Read the entire piece here.

Why NBC Dumped Bob Costas

Costas

It has to do with his outspoken criticism of the NFL in relation to the league’s concussion crisis.  Here is a taste of some great long-form sports journalism from Mark Fainaru-Wada at ESPN’s “Outside the Lines”:

By this point, Costas’ line at Maryland — This game destroys people’s brains — had gone viral, raising hackles in the NBC offices. The New York Daily News asked NBC for comment, and a spokesman responded, “Bob’s opinions are his own, and they do not represent those of the NBC Sports Group” — prompting a story from Raissman under the headline, “NBC throws Bob Costas under the bus and in the process sends warning to rest of its talent.”

Sensing a budding problem with his employer, Costas says he decided to appear on CNN on Saturday morning to make it clear he wasn’t being critical of NBC. So, for the third time in a week, Costas was talking publicly about football and brain damage. He didn’t soften any of his comments — in fact, he reiterated them — but he did attempt to defend the network.

“I’ve been saying these things for the better part of a decade, and often on NBC, in front of the biggest audience not just in all of sports, but in all of television — ‘Sunday Night Football,'” Costas told host Michael Smerconish. “And I think NBC Sports deserves credit for this.”

Within an hour, Costas says he received a text from Flood, who oversees sports production for NBC.

“I think the words were, ‘You’ve crossed the line,'” says Costas, who says he no longer has the text.

“My thought was, ‘What line have I crossed?'”

Later, Costas says he pointed out that he had been saying these things about football for years — often on NBC. That didn’t matter; it seemed this was one time too many.

Costas was told he was off the Super Bowl LII broadcast.

“I recall the phrase, ‘It’s a six-hour, daylong celebration of football, and you’re not the right person to celebrate football,'” Costas says. “To which my response was not, ‘Oh please, please, change your mind.’ My response was, ‘Yeah, I guess you’re right.'”

Read the entire piece here.

Why Youth Sports is Broken

Both of my girls played sports in elementary school, middle school, and high school.  My older daughter played volleyball and basketball.  My younger daughter played basketball and soccer.  They played for their community, for their town, for regional club teams, and national club teams.  As of November 2018, I no longer have any children playing K-12 sports.

I have seen a lot over the years.  I coached my daughters in basketball when they were young.  I’ve watched men and women coach my kids.  And, perhaps most revealing, I’ve sat in the stands and on the sidelines with a lot of parents and listened to a lot of criticism of coaches, referees, and poorly paid park and recreation employees.  I’ve overheard the gossip and largely kept my mouth shut.

Over the years I have come to the conclusion that youth sports is broken.  And it’s because of the ambition of the parents, not the kids.  One of these days I am going to write a long piece about what I have seen, but for now I will just let South Carolina basketball coach Frank Martin handle it.  Martin doesn’t capture everything I might one day say about my experience with youth sports, but it is a start.

The Fea Girls on the Championship Road

I am always proud of my daughters, but I am especially excited for them this week.

Caroline, a high school senior, is playing on Tuesday night in the Pennsylvania Intercollegiate Athletic Association (PIAA) state semifinal game in the hopes of advancing to the state championship game on Saturday.  I wrote a bit about the Mechanicsburg Wildcat’s girls soccer team here.  Last Saturday afternoon they advanced to the semifinals with a thrilling 2-1 double overtime victory over Archbishop Ryan High School in 30 degree weather and howling winds.

Caroline banquet

Caroline at the team banquet last week

GIrls soccer team

Caroline’s team has 11 seniors

Allyson, a junior right side hitter on the Calvin College women’s volleyball team, will compete this weekend in Pittsburgh for the NCAA Division 3 National Championship.  On Saturday night they won an epic 5-set match against Wittenberg University to advance to the round of 8.  I have no idea why the #1 ranked team in the country (Calvin) faced the #3 ranked team in the country (Wittenberg) in a regional final, but that’s what happened.   Either team could have won this game and both deserve to be in the Elite 8 this weekend in Pittsburgh.   It was a sweet win for Calvin.  Last season Wittenberg defeated Calvin on their home court in the national semifinals.

Sarah and Ally

Ally is #19

Ally and Dad