Tuesday, July 13, 2010

A Rulebook double

Two sports-related thoughts and then, I promise, I'll move on to something else, unless something else sports related catches my eye. But I promise, a non-sports blog at some point in the near future.

LeBronapalooza II: Electric Boogaloo

Roughly 10 million people tuned in last Thursday night to watch a one-hour televised special entitled 'The Decision' in which LeBron James, announced his decision as to where he would be playing basketball next year. Living in Wilmington, NC, I was hoping he would shock the world (or at least the 10 million people - myself included) and select the Wilmington SeaDawgs, a semipro basketball team that went 15-5 last year. I can't help but think James could have elevated the team to an 18-2 record. I'm guess he'd also help out the attendance figures in the league. But apparently the fame and fortune and allure of playing in South Beach was more than a small, coastal NC city could offer.

Reaction to his decision was swift, from the burning of James' jerseys (dude, they are expensive enough to begin with, and in 20 years they'll be a throwback jersey that'll be worth three to four times what you paid for it) to the owner of James' former team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, posting an incoherent rant on the team's website, using the font we all use when we're serious, comic sans. So rambling was the letter that ESPN had to call the Cleveland PR office to confirm that it wasn't a hoax. (oddly, it seems that all of Cleveland's owner's statements are in comic sans. Apparently no one on the Cavaliers' staff can talk any sense into the team's owner.) Billy Madison's speech at the end of that movie made more sense than that letter did.

Even though proceeds from the show went to the Boys and Girls Club, that wasn't enough to offset the the backlash directed at James. Most of the (inescapable) media coverage is focused on James' decision to leave his hometown (ok, Akron, OH is his hometown, but it's close enough for purposes of this blog. If you wanted accuracy, you wouldn't be looking here, would you?) However, what most fans seem to get is that the anger isn't directed at his decision, but how he went about announcing his decision. Had he simply called the Cleveland owner, told him he was going to Miami and then issued a statement or held a press conference, no one outside of Ohio would really care. It'd just be another athlete changing teams.

But instead, he decided to break up with Cleveland on a nationally televised media spectacle. It was akin to, instead of proposing to your girlfriend on the jumbotron, you had your wife served with divorce papers on the jumbotron. Divorce, while unfortunate, happens every day. But if you make a giant show about it and go through the effort to embarrass your former spouse in front of as many people as possible, don't act shocked when people consider you a douchebag for doing so.

World Cup: Extra Time

A friend of mine hypothesized on facebook during the World Cup Finale that the reason Americans don't like soccer is because of all the flopping. Flopping, for those unfamiliar with the sport, is essentially taking a dive in the attempt to draw a foul call from the referee. It's generally frowned upon and is punishable by a Yellow Card (the second-most severe penalty possible) so it's a risk to flop.

However, it seemed the sentiment behind the comment was that we Americans (I'm assuming I have no international readers) only enjoy sports where the players are ethical and would never dream of doing things to try to deceive an official in an attempt to get a call. Well, other than not always touching the base on double plays, catchers framing pitches to 'trick' the umpire into calling a strike, claiming pass interference on any pass that isn't caught, illegal modifications or fuel to the cars in NASCAR, and any other numerous tricks of the trade that athletes use in any sport to try to gain an edge. It's certainly a good thing that no sports Americans follow would have the unofficial motto of "If you ain't cheating, you ain't trying."

So no, it's not the flopping, it's two things, in my opinion, that are keeping the United States from embracing soccer. First, compared to the elite teams in the world, we're just not very good. (We made the top 16 in this year's World Cup, which isn't close enough to the top for Americans to care about in the long term). For better or worse, Americans only care about the best and being the best. Until we've got that caliber of national team, we're not going to care about the sport.

Second, and related to the first, is that our professional league is, at best, playing soccer that is third or fourth rate. Sure, US stars Landon Donavon and others play in Major League Soccer, but watching the World Cup and then watching MLS is like watching Major League Baseball and then heading down to your local college to watch those games. Sure, it's the same game, but the disparity in the level of play is glaring. There's a reason aging former stars in Europe come here to play *cough* DavidBeckham *Cough* and it's not for the scenic views of Salt Lake City.

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