Friday, December 7, 2012

Bowl Mania: Finding a Cure

When I was a freshman in high school, I had one goal for my winter break. I wanted to watch at least one quarter of each bowl game played that season. The games meant something to me and I was making a commitment to make sure I was able to watch at least a portion of each one. Making the task somewhat easier than it would be today was the fact that there weren’t 35 bowl games in 1993. However, New Year’s Day was still the official end of Bowl Season so there were quite a few games on that day. That and I was fighting with two younger brothers who didn’t necessarily share my goal and had other things they wanted to watch.

 No, I didn’t have a girlfriend at the time, why do you ask?

The games were meaningful. They were larger-than-life in the way that things your passionate about in high school take on added significance. I loved the bowl games and the pageantry that went along with them. Seeing teams from different conferences and different styles clash on a neutral field to see who was better was the highlight of my sports year. At least, I thought they were meaningful.

In reality they were probably just as meaningless as they are today. And make no mistake, they are meaningless exhibitions played to line the pockets of the men and women who run the bowl games. Sure, teams (and as a result, their conferences) get a payout for playing in a bowl. But after you subtract mandatory ticket sales, expensive hotel rooms and other expenses associated with reaching a bowl, there’s rarely, if ever, any actual financial benefit to playing in the game.

Aside from tradition, there’s literally no point in the current postseason associated with “big time” college football. It’s the only sport sponsored by the NCAA that turns its postseason over to outside entities that have no interest in determining a champion, but instead have nothing but a profit motive for the games. Aside from the BCS Championship game, teams aren’t selected for bowls based on their records or how deserving they are. No, they’re selected based on how many tickets they can sell and how much cold hard cash those fans can bring in. If your team “travels well,” you may get picked to go to a more prestigious game even if your record isn’t as good as that of another team in your conference that has a smaller fan base.

Even coaches, who spend their careers getting kids to buy in to their program with words like “unity” or “family” know bowl games are a charade. Otherwise, so many of them wouldn’t leave their team for a better job before the end of their season. Fans rightly rip Bobby Petrino for leaving the Atlanta Falcons with three games left in their regular season to take a college job and should rip Bobby Knight for retiring mid-season from Texas Tech for no other reason than to have his son take over the job. Players who quit on their team are derided. Coaches who quit on their team after the regular season but before the bowl games are greeted with a “meh, whatever.”

Take Western Kentucky’s Willie Taggart. After leading the team to its first bowl spot in team history, did he stick around to finish out the season? Nope. Less than a week after leading his alma mater to the Little Caesar’s Bowl (joke all you want, a bowl’s a bowl), he’s jumping ship for the University of South Florida that went 3-9 this season. I’m sure the job comes with a significant pay raise and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone for wanting to change jobs. But don’t spend all season telling your players that they’re family and you’re there for them and then leave before the biggest game in the schools FBS history. If the game were truly important, Taggart would still be at WKU to finish out his now-former team’s season. (I’ll leave it to WKU fans to debate if the Little Caesar’s Bowl is more or less meaningful than the three 1-AA National Championship games the Hilltoppers have played in.)

I’ll still probably watch some of the bowl games (though this year’s slate is decidedly uninspiring, even if the teams actually had an incentive to play.) But I won’t make the mistake of believing there’s any importance beyond ratings and tickets sold. For actual meaningful football, there’s the playoffs in the FCS (formerly, and still to me, 1-AA), Division II and Division III playoffs. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Hatred trying to hide your fears

There are few things that really, truly offend me. Rarely do I find a joke “too soon,” foul language, while it really bothers my wife, doesn’t really faze me. I very seldom use it, but don’t really care if other people do. And I really don’t care what the outrage of the day is on cable news. If anything, the manner in which cable news operates offends me.

But if there’s one thing that I truly can’t tolerate is racism. Abraham Heschel said “racism is man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum of hated for the minimum of reason.” The idea that you can spend your life feeling superior to a fellow human being simply because of the pigmentation of their skin is a viewpoint I truly can’t comprehend.  I don't know what causes a person to become so fearful of other races that their fear turns to hate. Life’s too short to fill it with prejudice and scorn. 

 I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that in 2012 we’ve eliminated racism from our society. While we’ve made great strides from the overt racism of previous generations that were socially acceptable, there are still hurdles to overcome. The racism of today is much more subtle. How often do you hear a Caucasian described as “well spoken” as compared to the number of times an African-American is described in that way. In the sports arena, Caucasians are more likely to be described as “intelligent” or “scrappy” while African-Americans have words like “athletic” attached to them. It may not have the vitriol of what Jackie Robinson faced, but the underlying assumptions and beliefs are no different.

So when I checked facebook the morning after the election, I expected to see people lamenting the end of the nation and how we’re facing 1,000 years of darkness, which I did. I also saw enough people proving they only get their news from FOX or right-wing pundits based on the talking points they were posting. That’s fine. We can’t, and shouldn’t, all agree on political issues and while I’d have preferred a little more reasoned discourse, I understand people wanting to blow off some steam after losing the election. (Clearly they didn’t read Nate Silver or they would have seen it coming.)

But what I did not expect was to see someone I went to high school with* using the “N-Word,” not just once, but twice. First in reference to President Obama winning and then, when someone called her on it, she called that person a “N----- lover.”

*Full disclosure: I have no recollection of this girl. Based on the number of facebook friends who are friends with her, we must have been in school at the same time.

And as bad as her post was (and it was horrible), the fact 11 people “liked” it is equally sickening. Why someone would want to publicly endorse such a mind-numbingly stupid comment is beyond comprehension.

A friend took the screen shot posted here and by 8:30 Wednesday night, it had been shared more than 1,000 times, which is fantastic. I’m all for publicly shaming anyone who wants to spread that kind of hatred. As I’ve said, I don’t understand how a person lives with that kind of pent up anger against a class of people based entirely on small genetic differences, but some do.

I’m only slightly less bothered by the fact that this person took down her facebook account early this afternoon as the screenshot spread. If you’re going to be a racist bigot, don’t hide from it. Own it. It’s yours. You posted it. You wanted people to see it.  Simply because people outside your pathetic little bubble don’t agree with you is no reason to conceal who you really are.

If there’s any positive to come out of this, it’s that this woman lost her job. Someone found out where she worked and posted that information. Eventually, a nearby media outlet called her employer and was informed she no longer works there.

Philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing." I may not be doing much, but by trying to bring this to light in my very small corner of the internet, I’m trying to do something. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

What Luke's Listening to

Here's my unofficial, completely subjective, likely to change list of my five favorite podcasts as of today:

5. Smart People Podcast - One I recently started listening to. It's shorter (about 30 minutes) and is two guys who, admittedly, are not smart. However, they interview smart people. Really smart people. Like people who make smart people feel like they're not smart. I particularly enjoyed their most recent episode in which they talked to Mark Malkoff, who has done such (notable?) things as watch 252 movies on Netflix in one month because he wanted to see how he could maximize his value of the $7.99 he was spending for the service. (It came out to between 12 and 17 hours a day watching movies). He also visited and purchased something from each of the 171 Starbucks in Manhattan, just because he could.

4. The Baseball Show with Rany and Joe - This is exactly what it sounds like. A guy named Rany and a guy named Joe talking about baseball. However, these two guys were among the founders of Baseball Prospectus, a website that examines (and in many cases, creates) advanced statistics to better understand baseball. I can't say this is a podcast I'd recommend for a casual baseball fan, but for someone who wants to understand finer points of the game and how it's evaluated, it's certainly a must listen. This one tends to run an hour or more, with their recent playoff and World Series episodes going more than 90 minutes. Sometimes they delve a bit too much into the minutia of the game (I really didn't need a 10 minute tangent on the value of David Eckstein to the St. Louis Cardinals in 2007), but any time you can get two smart people debating a topic, you're bound to learn something.

3. Baseball Today (Tues-Thurs. editions) - While The Baseball Show with Rany and Joe take the time to dig deep into the game, Baseball Today just just what you'd expect a podcast with that name to do. It looks at the game on a day-to-day basis, recapping games from the night before, previewing that day's slate of games and analyzing/interpreting what we've seen so far in the season. I specify the Tuesday-Thursday editions because that's when Keith Law is on. He's among the best at making advanced statistical analysis make sense to someone who doesn't understand all the math that goes in to some of the equations. Host Eric Karabell's enthusiasm is evident and he really seems to enjoy doing the show. It's usually about 40-50 minutes long.

2. Fantasy Focus (Baseball and, to a lesser extent, football) -  The 12th most popular popular fantasy podcast (according to their theme song), the three-time award winning podcast is a blend of fantasy analysis and nonsense. The show has spawned both and the counterwebsite It runs anywhere from 25 minutes (when they do both football and baseball podcast, typically mid-August through September) to a little more than an hour (Mondays and Fridays during football season.) Host Nate Ravitz (he of the is or is not a weasel website fame) and analyst Matthew Berry have excellent chemistry and seem to genuinely like each other. There are enough inside jokes that a glossary was created for new fans who want to get in on the inside jokes.

1. Slate's Hang Up and Listen - Every Monday night, I look forward to a tweet letting me know the latest episode has posted. Every Tuesday morning, I look forward to an hour of smart commentary that looks at everything from doping in cycling to the hockey lockout to how media narratives in sports color our view of what we watching. The show's format is fairly simple. Three guys talk about three different topics each week, each for between 15-20 minutes, and an "afterball" segment where each guy gets about 3 minutes to opine on whatever tickles their fancy at the moment. Typically there's at least one and sometimes two guests, usually due to the fact they need an expert on a certain topic before discussing it.

So there you have it. Not that you asked for it, but there it is.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lost: Mortgage Lending Unit

I’ve never seen “Lost.” I need to. I want to. I hear nothing but good things about most of it, even the weird middle seasons where they kind of lost their way and were essentially killing time as the ratings continued to be high. It’s in my Netflix queue and once baseball season’s over and I have more free television time, I plan on finally seeing what all the fuss was about.

I am disappointed they never spun off the franchise like CSI or Law & Order, so in my futile effort to break in to the television business, allow me to suggest “Lost: Mortgage Lending Unit” for ABC’s next big television show. Below is the rough plot for the pilot, which may or may not be based on real life events.

The scene: a small, south Georgia college town where a husband, wife and young son recently moved back to after living in North Carolina. Rather than rent an apartment for a few months before buying a house, they are offered and accept a proposal to live with his parents. Sure, it’s not ideal, but it won’t last that long as they should be able to find a good deal on a house in the struggling housing market.

These people are not good
 at their jobs. Some would say
 they're incompetent
After a few months of looking, the couple finds a house they really like at a price that’s right in their price range. The only problem is it’s a short sale, meaning the sellers want to sell it at a small loss rather than enter into foreclosure. Sure it’ll ding the seller’s credit, but not as much as a foreclosure. Unfortunately, these kinds of sales take a while, so our couple is forced to live with his parents for a little longer than anticipated. It’s not ideal, but for the house they want, it’s probably worth a little more frustration.

The Plot Twist: The couple submits an offer in April, knowing it takes a few months for the file to make its way through the short sale process. April turns to May, which turns to June which turns… why am I telling you this, you know the order of the months of the year. Anyway, in August, with the couple and the realtors both the couple and the bank getting frustrated with the lack of movement on the sale, some slightly good news appears. By September 21, everything should be done and a signed contract accepting the offer should be ready. Again, longer than the couple wanted, but for the house they want, they’re willing to endure their living situation for a bit longer. After all, it’s the house they plan on spending the next 30 years living in.

On September 19, two days before everything was expected to be complete, the evil bank central to the ongoing conflict (named: SunTrust…. Wait, that may pose some copyright issues, how about SunRust, we’ll go with that so there’s no confusion), calls to say they’ve lost the file and if the couple wants to resubmit the paperwork, the entire process would need to start over.

Here’s where we’re asking the audience to suspend their disbelief. We have to assume that a multi-billion dollar corporation has no copy machines, no scanners and no electronic record keeping system to keep track of important stuff like, you know, social security numbers, private financial data or other sensitive information. Instead, there’s just a Manila folder somewhere in their evil lair with all that information floating around. We have to believe that despite being told that everything was good just a week ago, the file magically disappears during the day the guy/girl working on it was off. We have to believe that an institution entrusted with keeping the money of thousands (millions?) of customers can’t keep track of a file.

On second thought, maybe this is just too far-fetched of an idea to be made into a series. It’s not like something like this would ever happen, would it?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

God issues statement on Tebow

HEAVEN – God held a rare press conference Sunday night to respond to complaints that the New York  Jets were unable to rally from behind to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers despite the presence of Timothy (Tim) Tebow on the Jets roster.

“Look, last year was a fluke in regards to Tebow,” said the Almighty. “I kind of got swept up in everything and decided to let it go on for longer than I should have.”

The Creator of Heaven and Earth emphasized that the Broncos, Tebow’s team last year, primarily won games due to their defense and His twisted sense of humor.

“What can I say, I liked the reactions,” God said. “On one hand, you had Tebow fans who truly believed I was on their side and wanted Denver to win. On the other hand, you had people who couldn't stand Tebow and seeing him get credit for having his only decent drive of the game come on the last one. I couldn’t lose watching you people get all worked up about it.”

Despite leading the Broncos to an overtime playoff win last season, Tebow was traded to the Jets in the offseason to make way for Peyton Manning, who many believe to be significantly better to Tebow, mostly because Manning tends to throw to his receivers rather than open patches of grass.

Tebow led the Jets to a 48-28 win in their first game behind his 11 yards rushing on five carries. However, despite 22 total yards rushing in Sunday’s game against the Steelers, the Jets fell 27-10.

“Guys, you had a fun run last year, but let’s be serious for a minute. Tebow just isn’t very good at the football,” God said. “Don’t get me wrong, his skill set was great for the college game, but that isn’t going to cut it in the NFL.”

The Lord wouldn’t get in to what was in store for Tebow and the Jets for the rest of the season, but reminded fans who may be calling for starting quarterback Mark Sanchez to be benched that Sanchez is 4-2 in the playoffs over his career, while Tebow is 1-1.

“I’m not a betting man, but if you can get odds on the Jets not winning the Super Bowl, I’d take them,” God said.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Confessions of a high school football snob

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a college town. 

Fortunate in that I happened to be six when Georgia Southern won their first national championship and by the time I was 11, the Eagles added three more. Being that young, I didn’t even bother watching the fourth national championship game, even though it was played at Georgia Southern’s stadium and was on television. I grew so accustomed to the Eagles winning national titles that it wasn’t a big deal to the 11-year old version of me. It happened all the time, so I why would I watch?

I mention all this because the unprecedented success of Georgia Southern soured me on high school football. I went when I was in High School to our games, partly because I was in the marching band and partly because it was the thing to do in high school.

After college, I stayed close to Georgia Southern and only when to high school games as a freelance writer for the local paper. In other words, I had to get paid to go to a high school game. Eventually I got hired on by a newspaper and started having to “do desk,” which is industry speak for “sit in the office while everyone else is out covering games and then proofread and layout the pages when they get back.”

It’s a miserable job.

You’re in the office with one or two other people while everyone else is out in the community, watching games and having a lot more fun than me. (This is well before streaming video and tv shows was commonplace online, so there wasn’t a lot to do but sit and wait.) I unabashedly started cheering for the local teams to lose playoff games so I would no longer have to do desk.

I came to loathe high school football and everything it represented. Mostly because what it represented was being chained to a desk on a Friday night while my friends were out having fun. And really, who could really get excited about a high school game when the next day one of the top FCS teams in the nation would be playing just down the road. It was watching inferior football and getting excited about it? How? Why?

Eventually, I got so burnt out that I quit newspapers and went back to school to get my Master’s Degree.

This year, I’ve been doing some freelance work covering high school games for the same paper I previously worked for. And now, I’m loving high school football. The pageantry, the way the community rallies behind their team. I enjoy watching the players look for their girlfriends after the game and the cheerleaders hold up giant hand-painted banners for the players to run through before the game. I like hearing the PA announcer yell from the press box as though he can influence the officials and how there’s not really a “no cheering in the press box” rule.

So I’m sorry high school football. Sorry I held such a snobby attitude towards you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Not Quite Weekend at Bernie's, but close

Dear 1998 Luke,

I don’t have much time and I’m already taking a risk by doing this, but I have to write to past me to let you know about some things. I can’t really tell you too much, but there are a few things I can mention.

First of all, don’t get your hopes up for the Cubs. Even when things look really good and they’re only five outs from the World Series, remember that they’re the Cubs. Also, if you get the chance to buy a ticket for a playoff game from a Steven Bartman, you should probably pass on that. You don’t know him now, but you’ll know his name, and you don’t want to be him.

Second, this whole internet thing seems like it might just actually work out. There’s going to come a time when you’re actually going to give up cable willingly because you can watch most of what you want on the internet. There’s also going to be time when people make Chuck Norris jokes online. You won’t find them all that funny, but the rest of the world will. Don’t worry, the fad passes.

Most importantly, I want to tell you about a really cool couple of days you’ll have over Labor Day weekend in 2012. You know how you want to be a sports broadcaster right now. Well, it’s only going to take 14 years, but you’re going to get your wish. And here’s the best part. Not only do you get to broadcast a game, but it’ll be available for millions of people. Your voice will be describing the action for an unimaginable number of potential viewers.

Now before you go thinking you’ve made it to ESPN to announce their Monday Night Football games, don’t get too excited. (Oh yeah, they move Monday Night Football to cable, but it’s basically the one thing you want to watch, but can’t without cable. You survive.) Remember that internet thing I mentioned earlier. Well, the Statesboro Herald actually gets the capability to broadcast high school football games on the internet.

Seriously. They do it on a weekly basis. It’s kind of cool. And they’ll ask you to do it in addition to writing a game story for the newspaper. It’s a lot harder than it looks. First of all, you’ll have to keep your own stats. It’s hard. You’re making notes all over the place and hoping you can read your writing. Not only that, but you don’t really know the players. You’re essentially winging it. But anyone from around the world who has internet access will be able to hear your broadcasting. That said, I doubt there’s a big clamoring for rural South Georgia high school football in London or Sydney.

I know, it’s not exactly how you see your broadcasting career starting. I’d mention more about your career path, but I don’t think I’m allowed to without risking serious violations from something called the PATRIOT ACT. I know, it sounds like that’s a good thing, but it’s really not. You’ll understand later.

One more thing I want to mention to you. You know how you love Georgia Southern football? How you can’t wait for the autumn to get here so you can go to the games? How you get into the stadium about an hour before kickoff to get a good place to stand with your friends?

And you know how much you’d love to be on the field during a game? Not as a player. Dear God, they’d kill you. Even as a kicker you’d be scared for your life. Well, what if I tell you you’ll get to do the next best thing? What if I tell you that you’ll get to stand on the sideline during a game and even walk out onto the field?

You get that chance, but there’s a catch. You know the guy wearing the red hat who stands on the field during media timeouts. That guy. The guy you hate and will wish terrible things to happen to that man because he’s making the game take forever and it’s 95 degrees in the shade and there’s no shade in sight? 

That’s you.

Now here’s the good news. First, it’s a night game, so it’s only 88 in the shade instead of 95. Second, it’s not on television, so you really can’t screw up too badly. Third, and here’s the best part, is that you get a really cool view of the game. I don’t care how fast the guys on the field look from the stands, you really can’t truly appreciate it until you see it at field level. Those guys are fast. Even the slow guys are fast.

It’s a really cool weekend. You’ll spend Sunday taking your kid to the water park in Statesboro (yes, you have a kid AND Statesboro has a water park. I know that seems strange, but you’re going to have to trust me on this one.)

One last thing. You’re going to meet a really hot girl sometime this year. The good news is 14 years later, she’s still hot.

Don’t screw up too much,

Future Luke

P.S. If you get a chance to invest Apple in the next year or so, you should really do that. It might change everything about this letter, but we’ll make it work somehow.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Elizabeth Hurley (Alternately, the nature of God)

I overheard two women talking in the parking lot as I was waiting for my son to take his typical very slow walk to the front doors of the preschool. It’s not that he doesn’t like preschool. In fact, he really likes it. He’s just not in a hurry to get there (or anywhere, for that matter.)

The Devil (Artist's interpretation)
Anyway, I don’t know exactly what the women were discussing, but at one point the older woman said something to the effect of “That’s why you have to pray for EXACTLY what you want. Otherwise, you won’t get it.” The implication being that God will give you what you ask for, so you’d better be ultra-specific lest God decides to be like the monkey’s paw that gives three wishes but don’t exactly work out like the person making the wish had planned. Or, as an excuse to run a picture of Elizabeth Hurley in a post about the nature of God, it’s like the movie Bedazzled where she plays the Devil and grants wishes not exactly as planned.

Now, I am not what you would call a classically trained theologian. Other than a few philosophy courses in college that touched on the idea of God at times, I can’t say I have any formal education on what the nature of God is. But if God is the all-loving, all powerful God that the church claims he* is, then shouldn’t a prayer with the vaguest of ideas about what you’re asking God for be enough? Why the need to be so precise that the best legal scholars of the day would have trouble finding alternative outcomes for the prayer?

*The God I know loves me enough to support proper grammar and not to capitalize pronouns in the middle of a sentence.

I guess when I was 16 and wanted a car, I should have mentioned to God that I kind of wanted it when I was, in fact, 16. Now I know.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Olympic Thoughts

I  like the Olympic idea. The thought of people putting aside whatever geopolitical* differences they have and the best athlete in one country facing off against the best athlete of another country in their chosen sport to see who is the best. It’s a fantastic idea. If it weren’t for the whole “inventing democracy” thing, the Olympics would be the Greeks greatest contribution to society.

*Geopolitical may be the biggest word I’ve ever used in a blog entry. Please don’t expect more.

And while I’ve enjoyed watching the “Games of the 30th Olympiad,” I’m not sure I’ve enjoyed the Olympics experience, and most of this dissatisfaction can be laid at the feet of  NBC. This isn’t about the peacock network’s decision to make it next to impossible for me to watch the events I want to watch live, though that does suck.

Instead, my gripes come not from when NBC is showing events, but how and what they’re showing. For the purposes here, we’ll focus on the NBC broadcasts, you know, the one where they pretend the events didn’t take place six hours before they show them to you. Ok, so maybe my complaints do involve a bit of bitterness for not being able to see the events live like literally EVERY OTHER COUNTRY.

You may not be aware, but there are more than 200 countries participating in this year’s Olympics, from China and its billion people to Tuvalu, which I learned in the opening ceremonies is not the line in Dexy’s Midnight Runners “Come on Eileen.” Then again, if you’re reading this, it’s entirely likely that you’re well aware of the massive number of countries who sent athletes to the games. This makes you more aware of the world around you than the executives at NBC, who seem to have the belief that there is the United States of America who are in every event and then countries that just sent athletes to play against the USA.

I get it. NBC is an American company broadcasting almost exclusively to an American audience. And I get that NBC paid a princely sum of money for the exclusive rights to broadcast the games and need to do what they can to recoup their investment. The best way to do that is to play into the jingoistic** nature of the Olympics and show events that Americans win. Who doesn’t want to watch their home country win medal after medal?

Me, that’s who.

**Ok, two big words. Sorry.

Not that I don’t want the American athletes to perform well. I hope they all set personal bests in every event they compete in. But it’s the freaking Olympics. Once every four years (two if you count the winter games, and judging by the ratings, many of you don’t), the world comes together. Athletes from North Korea compete next to athletes from the United States. Athletes from Israel line up against competitors from Iran. And you just know the Queen of England is looking out over all the different country’s athletes and thinking to herself “We used to rule over all the countries. 

What happened to us?”

Maybe it is just me. I’m sure other countries show the sports their citizens care about. Hungary probably shows a lot of water polo, Great Britain probably shows a lot of their athletes and no one really watches the fencing. But I bet those countries have the opportunity to watch all the sports they want live.

Are we having fun yet?
But rather than use this opportunity to showcase the global nature of the games and how, for two weeks at least, people can put aside  whatever disagreements they have and just have fun*** competing, NBC gives us pre-packaged syrupy stories. Comedian Andy Borowitz joked that several athletes were expelled from the games for failing to have a compelling back story of overcoming triumph. If NBC had control of the Olympic team selection process, this probably wouldn’t be a joke.

***Mckayla Maroney is exempted from this.

I’m a sports fan and that’s my problem. NBC doesn’t view the games as a sporting event. Instead, its goal is to make the Olympics a television event featuring sports. And in their defense, the ratings are showing their view to have merit as more than 30 million people nightly tune in. Nothing against Lolo Jones or Ryan Lotche, but I don’t really care about your story. I want to see you compete at the highest level and test your skills against the best from around the globe. I want to see sports.

One night last week NBC’s primetime coverage started at 8 p.m. Forty-five minutes in to the broadcast, we’d seen five minutes of actual competition. But we did get to see a 25-minute retrospective on the gold medal winning gymnasts from 1996, so there’s that. Hundreds of athletes from every corner of the earth competed that day in countless events and with all that footage at their disposal, NBC felt it best to show us something from 16 years ago. If there’s any greater sign that NBC doesn’t care about the sports aspect as much as the television aspect, that’s it.

What bothers me is there is no greater television drama than sports. Not the fake drama of a Lochte-Michael Phelps feud, but the genuine drama of the two men racing in the pool to see who is better. That’s drama. That’s what I want to see. But NBC, sadly, has different plans.

So here’s my humble suggestion. Show everything live and on tape delay in prime time. Show the events when the happen, but show the feature stories about the guy who was born to an upper-middle class family who was once turned down for a date from the fourth-runner up for homecoming queen who used that rejection to motivate himself to become the best racewalker in Canadian history. I’ll watch both live and on delay. We all will. It’s the Olympics. It’s when we all come together for the most human of all activities, complaining about television coverage.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Olympic Inspiration

If you're going to pick a sports figure to be a hero,
make it Hamadou Djibo Issaka of Niger.

I used to think my dreams of being an Olympic athlete were over.  Other than my lack of world class skill or speed in a specific discipline as well as the needed time to devote to acquiring the skill or speed that would land me on the Olympic team, I have everything it takes to be an Olympian. But that was before I saw Hamadou Djibo Issaka of Niger.

First, some quick facts about Niger. It's a landlocked country in western Africa that ranks 186th out of 187 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index. I don't know what that means, exactly, but I know it's not good. They have one Olympic medal in the country's history. (Any guesses?) It was a bronze in boxing in 1972 (good guess.)

Niger has competed in 10 Olympic games beginning in 1964. However, I couldn't tell you what they wore during the opening ceremonies, who carried their flag in the parade of nations or if NBC even bothered to show them when they walked in. In fact, before last week, the most I knew about Niger is that my friend who teaches social studies in middle school is always extremely careful in who he calls on to read in class when Niger is involved.

Now this may come as a surprise to you, as it did to me, but Niger doesn't exactly have a glorious rowing history. That is to say, they have no rowing history. The country is roughly 80 percent desert and there aren't a lot of large bodies of water available to practice rowing. 

This is where Issaka comes in. Issaka is a former swimmer turned rower. And by "turned rower," I mean first set foot in a boat last November. He immediately overturned it. 

But Issaka didn't let a little thing like having to train in a wooden fishing boat because there wasn't a scull (competition boat) in his country deter him from becoming an Olympian. Granted an Olympic spot under a program from the International Olympic Committee that ensure each country can be represented, he set his mind to rowing in the Olympics. 

I happened to be watching when his heat came on and I figured I could devote a few minutes to a sport I won't care about for another four years. After all, if I can't get in to rowing in the Olympics, when can I? 

The gun fired and all the other competitors took off like they'd been training for more than three months. Issaka, meanwhile, took off like a man who first set foot in a scull a week before the race, because that's exactly what he was. He would later say he was just happy he didn't tip the boat over while waiting for the race to start. 

I was captivated by this African man who started slow and got progressively slower and slower. But he rowed.

And rowed.

And rowed.

Cutting his way through Dorney Lake in Great Britain Issaka was well out of the screen after 30 seconds. But he kept rowing.

And rowing.

And rowing.

The leaders all finished the race and Issaka kept rowing. For more than two minutes after everyone else had completed the race, Issaka kept rowing. And as he was, the crowd showered him with cheers and applause for his efforts.

He had no dreams of winning a medal, or even winning a heat. But he pressed on, serving as an inspiration for millions around the globe who believe they, too, given the chance just want to compete for their country. 

Issaka has already said he’s focused on improving his time for the 2016 games in Rio. And Niger has acquired four sculls and some oars to allow for more than a week of training.

Four years ago, I’d likely have spent this entire post making fun of Issaka, ridiculing him for attempting as ridiculous as trying to compete in the Olympics in a sport you just took up three months ago. 

Today, I’m an admirier and a fan of Issaka. He, more than anyone else I’ve seen at this year’s games, have reminded me that winning is defined in many ways. Issaka may not have won a medal, or a heat or even finished before any other competitor. But just by starting, he won. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Good times, Bad times

I go to the water park. A lot.

As in I recognize the lifeguards there.

And not just the pretty ones, but even some of the guys.

I'm there so much because as a stay-at-home dad with a three-year old, there's really not a better way to kill  spend some time with my son unless I want to be trapped in the house. Something about it being 90+ degrees with 90+ humidity makes me want to avoid the outside unless there is large amounts of water involved.

But today, with my wife and son out of town, I went to the water park by myself. Granted, there isn't a lot there for a guy in his mid early-30s, but people watching and a good book make an excellent way to pass the time.

I made my way to the kids area since that's where I'd be most likely to see any friends of mine, picked out an empty chair and proceeded to read.

Every now and again, I'd look up and while the people were different, the scene was the same. Parents laughing and playing with their kids.

Pure joy. (Not the dish washing detergent, the other kind.)

It got to the point I started watching the parents playing with their kids more than I spent reading.  It's rare, for me anyway, to see so much unbridled joy.

Then I came home to find out one of the Cubs' two best pitchers (who we need healthy so we can trade him) was injured.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Smoke on the Water

For an early Father's Day present, my wife and mom got the family season passes to the local water park. Being a stay-at-home dad, trophy husband, I was thrilled as it's not easy to come up with activities for a three-year old that typically have to be inside because I don't feel like spending large amounts of time in the 95+ degree heat we'll have from Monday until late September.

So last weekend, Yes Dear, the little guy and myself all went to the water park where we spent a lot of time trying to convince the little guy to do down the kiddie slides. Eventually I convinced Yes Dear to let me go on one of the adult slides a few times.

Getting to the top of the stairs to wait my turn, I look to the back corner of the park and see what is probably the saddest place on earth. Maybe not literally, I mean it is a water park after all. But I saw a sad place.

Standing in the corner on what can only be described as "well manicured grass" were about 8-10 adults ostracized to the farthest reaches of the park. Smoking cigarettes. I don't smoke. Never have. Never saw the appeal. Therefore, I can't really speak to the power of nicotine addiction. But it's sad to me that someone would be so dependent on a substance they'd willing stand out in the hot sun sweating buckets just to fix.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Second Chances

Rich Thompson was a pinch runner for the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday night. This, in and of itself, isn’t exactly noteworthy. Pinch runners are a fairly routine aspect of baseball. The manager decides he needs someone fast on the bases, so he sends someone in to replace the guy on base.

Making it somewhat noteworthy is that Thompson was making his season debut for the Rays. Again, this is fairly common as players are called up from the minor leagues all the time to replace an injured player or to fill in for a struggling veteran. So making your season debut in the middle of May isn’t really anything to write home about.

Unless you’re Thompson.

Thompson last played in the major leagues in 2004. He had exactly one at-bat during his time in the Big Leagues. It wasn’t exactly the stuff legends are made of. He grounded into a double play off a guy who normally plays catcher but was pitching because the game was a blow out. For the next eight years, he toiled in the minor leagues riding buses from Lehigh Valley to Indianapolis, playing with prospects who would go on to play on the biggest stage or alongside aging veterans who were trying to hang on for one last shot in the Majors.

Thompson was fortunate (due, in large part, to his willingness to keep playing when others would have quit long ago.) He got a second shot. The same could not be said for Adam Greenberg.

When I first heard of Thompson’s story, I immediately thought of Greenberg. He was a 9th round selection of the Cubs in 2002 from UNC-Chapel Hill who made his major league debut on July 9, 2005 against the Florida Marlins. In the 9th inning, Greenberg was substituted in as a pinch hitter and to make his major league debut.

Years of playing catch in the back yard, batting cages, little league games, high school, college and three years in the minor leagues and finally, Greenberg had reached the pinnacle of his profession as a major league baseball player.  

It didn’t last long.

On the first pitch he saw, he was struck in the head by a 92 mile per hour fastball resulting in a concussion. He was removed from the game and sent back to the minor leagues to rehab. Sadly for Greenberg,  the effects of the concussion were so bad that he had to sleep sitting up and would get dizzy just bending down to tie his shoe.  He was released by the Cubs a year later and was signed and then released by the Dodgers, Royals, and Angels. He never again played a Major League game.

Greenberg is one of only two players in baseball history to be hit by a pitch in his only major league plate appearance and never take the field. (Fred Van Dusen of the 1955 Phillies was the other, but I wasn’t watching that game, so I’m not writing about him.) Every now and again, especially when I hear a story like Thompson’s, I wonder what happened to Greenberg. Maybe when they remake “Field of Dreams” in 75 years, they’ll replace Moonlight Graham with Adam Greenberg. 

I didn't get to cheer for Greenberg long. Hopefully I'll get to cheer for Thompson a bit longer.

Monday, May 14, 2012

I'm Never Doing Cat Fancy Again

After an exhaustive analysis that included linguists, animal specialists, propaganda experts and even that guy from "Lie to Me" who could read facial expressions to determine if you're lying, researchers have determined that the editors of the "Meow Mix" brand cat food commercials have been making up the words the cats in the commercials were saying in a blatant attempt to manipulate viewers into purchasing their product. Now, for the first time anywhere, we (well, me) here at Expecting the Spanish Inquisition are revealing the truth about what the cats have been saying.

"People of Earth, we are being held here against our will to produce this bit of propaganda for the so-called 'meow mix' cat food. The truth is we don't really like this stuff. In fact, that 'Fancy Feast' stuff is really good, so if you could get some of that for us next time you're out, that'd be awesome. 

"Also, while we have your attention, a few things we should mention. We don't always land on our feet, so if you could get your 12-year olds to stop testing that theory, we'd appreciate it. We know you're mocking us with the laser pointers, but we don't care, they're fun. 

"We've spoken to Tom. He and Jerry actually get along great and just did all that stuff to see how easily your children could be amused. It doesn't take that much. Your adults also seem easily amused as that damn musical about us just won't die. And really, does your 'Tube of You' or whatever you call it need to be populated with so many videos of us?

"Finally, if you could send in Cat Team 6 to come save us, that'd be really cool."

Reached for comment, the people behind the Meow Mix advertising campaign said "If you think that's bad, you should see what we do with those talking babies in the ETrade commercials."

*The title for this blog came from one of my favorite ESPN commercials. My brother and I still occasionally still make references to it. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The day(s) before love comes to town

Among the many great friends I met during the little more than two years I lived in North Carolina were Bill and Ted.* Both were (and I assume still are, we've only been a few months since we moved   back to Georgia) active not only in the church, but in the community as well. From civic organizations and charity work to adopting two incredible little boys from foster care, fostering another little boy the same age as my son to doing untold hours of work on the children's room at the church we attended. Basically they took my "40 Good Deeds for Lent" and do that every day.

*Not their real names. I didn't ask if I could write publicly about them, hence the name changes. 

That's not to say they are perfect. Ted, after all, is an Appalachian State grad.

They also happen to be gay and were married in New York last fall. And the state I previously called home just passed a constitutional amendment defining marriage as being between one man and one woman. Presumably, this is to protect the biblical sanctity of marriage. 

If you want to believe in that, by all means, I have no issue with that. But I have an issue when you take your religious beliefs and codify them into law for people who may not believe the same as you do.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that all my North Carolina friends who publicly stated their position on the amendment were in favor of equality. 

Friday, May 4, 2012

We're One, But We're Not The Same

Normally this is a place for me to write (hopefully) humorously about whatever tickles my fancy. This is not one of those times. It won’t hurt my feelings if you choose to skip it. However, you’ve already clicked, on here, so you might as well stick around.

 Every four years, delegates from the United Methodist Church gather for their quadrennial convention to reexamine the church’s Book of Discipline which contains the laws and doctrines of the worldwide denomination totaling roughly 9.5 million people. Proposals are submitted, debated and voted on, because if a popular vote is good enough for American Idol to pick its winner by, it’s certainly good enough for a church seeking to interpret the word of God.

This year, a couple of votes were particularly disheartening to me. First was the statement “We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all –– that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” which sought to be added to the preamble Social Principles section of the aforementioned Book of Discipline. This is essentially restating Romans 8:38-39 in which Paul writes ““For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This didn’t seem all that controversial to me. While I subscribe to the belief that the Bible, Paul’s letters included, need to be interpreted through the prism of the time, culture and intended recipients of the writings, nothing in this statement seems to be specific to a certain culture that would prevent it from being a larger truth applied to humanity. And yet the motion only carried by a 532 to 414 vote. Assuming the General Conference delegates are a representative sample of the larger church as a whole (something I haven’t tried to verify), when I’m in church on Sunday and look at the five people to my right and five to my left, there’s a good chance four of them will believe there is something that can separate those in the service from God’s love.

I have no problem if that’s someone’s belief. I’ll freely admit I don’t have all or even most of the answers. There are times I’m not even sure I have any answers. But I find it strange that someone who professes to be a Christian and a United Methodist would be opposed to including one of the prevailing belief’s of the founder of the Methodist movement into the Book of Discipline. I find it even more disturbing that 40 percent of the church believes this. If I had to guess, I’d say that 40 percent were thinking of one issue when they voted.
The second issue arising from the General Conference I’m struggling with is the church’s inconsistency when it comes to implementing biblical teaching in regards to homosexuality and divorce. As I mentioned earlier, I believe the bible should be read through the lenses of the time, place and culture it was written. Even more so with the writings of Paul, who believed Jesus would return in his lifetime. When Paul said “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” in Ephesians 1:2, I think he was just giving a greeting to the church. I’m not sure he expected it to be studied 2,000 years later. Sometimes a greeting is just a greeting.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton co-sponsored an amendment to the Book of Discipline that essentially says “hey, the United Methodist Church is struggling with this issue. Some feel strongly homosexuality is a sin while others see the biblical statements about homosexuality in the same way they view statements about polygamy, slavery, ect . We’re going to agree to disagree on this issue in love.” While you can argue the statement goes too far in accepting homosexuals or, in my case, it doesn’t go far enough; it resonated with me as an accurate description of the current state of the view of homosexuality in the United Methodist Church.

Shortly after settling on a church in North Carolina, this issue came to the forefront as a gay couple was accepted as members of the church. People left the church, stopped donating money and did all they could to force the pastor out. Even if you accept that homosexuality is a sin, to leave a church because sinners were accepted as members seems like you’re missing the point of what a church is for.

So the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality is that it’s a sin and incompatible with Christian teaching. Jesus was silent on the issue, but for the sake of moving forward, we’ll go with that, acknowledging that some may disagree with the church’s stance. Jesus, however, was not silent on divorce. In fact, he was pretty clear on it. From Matthew 19:3-9

 3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

I’m not a biblical scholar and despite being an ordained minister (thank you internet), I don’t have a background in theology. But that seems like a pretty clear teaching of Jesus. So let’s go look at what the United Methodist Church says on divorce.

God's plan is for lifelong, faithful marriage. The church must be on the forefront of premarital and postmarital counseling in order to create and preserve strong marriages. However, when a married couple is estranged beyond reconciliation, even after thoughtful consideration and counsel, divorce is a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness. We grieve over the devastating emotional, spiritual, and economic consequences of divorce for all involved and are concerned about high divorce rates.

It’s possible to view the scripture’s messages on homosexuality as timeless law while Jesus’ teaching as simply a teaching  for those in that time, culture and custom, much like the church views Jesus’ teaching on slavery today. It doesn’t make much sense to me to view these two issues in that light, but apparently to the United Methodist Church, it does.  
As I mentioned earlier, I’m far from a biblical scholar or theologian. However, I do think I have a decent grasp on what the whole Christianity thing is supposed to be about. I’m pretty sure we’re just supposed to be excellent to each other and love God. Instead, the church I grew up in is voting on if we can be separated from the love of an all-loving God or how certain acts don’t line up with our incomplete understanding of who God is. As U2’s Bono wrote, “We're one, but we're not the same. We get to carry each other.” If the church is willing to do that, it’ll be fine. If not, the church is in trouble.

Monday, April 23, 2012

I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

This may be a bit deeper and heavier and longer than I like to write on here, but on the plus side, it’s free, so you’re only out the bit of time you’d have spent goofing off somewhere else.

I may have missed the point. I may be totally off base. I really have no idea. I’ve got a vague notion of what I was trying to accomplish and what impact I wanted it to have, but for the life of me, two weeks after Easter and the 40 (well, 47) day period before it known as Lent have passed and I still don’t know if totally botched it, hit the nail on the head, or somewhere in between. But before we can get to that, let’s go back to the beginning.

I’m not very good with Lent. I get the basic premise is to spend the 40 days before Easter giving up something you like/love/enjoy and that, in doing so, it’s supposed to remind you of God’s sacrifice or Jesus being tempted in the desert or maybe the Jews wondering the desert for 40 years because Moses wanted to take the scenic route. I’m not really sure. I know it’s not in the bible but we do it because everyone else does it. But that never really helped me. I gave up caffeine one time and for a while, it was tough, but then I got used to it. I didn’t feel any spiritually more in tune with what Easter was all about. The hardest part was going to a Braves’ game against the Cubs on the Saturday night before Easter and not having a Coke at the game. (We did stop just after midnight on our way home and I got a Mountain Dew or Cherry Coke or something caffeinated.)

So this year, I decided to take the Monty Python approach and try something completely different. The idea came from a tweet from a Jewish sportswriter and journalism teacher named Jeff Pearlman.* Pearlman wrote that he and his kids were doing a good deed a week for a year after he got the idea from a man doing good deeds in honor of his dying father. I simply adopted the idea for Lent and decided that I, along with my three-year old son, would do something to make someone else’s day better.  

*Sports fans, Braves’ fans in particular, may remember him as the author of the article in which John Rocker reaffirmed every stereotype of the dumb jock.

Where I run into questions regarding doing it correctly or not is here. I only had two ground rules for our good deeds. First, they needed to be something that could be an immediate impact. Not so much for me, but the idea of delayed gratification isn’t exactly a strong suit of most three-year olds. Paying for the order of the car behind you at the drive-thru is certainly something that would improve someone’s day, but that impact is lost on small children. The second ground rule is that we didn’t do anything quote spiritual unquote**. In fact, other than a few times when I mentioned what we were doing was for Lent, we pretty much left all aspects of Christianity out of it. 

**One day we were out to lunch with my wife before we’d done anything nice yet and she suggested we have our son go up to the woman at the next table and tell her Jesus loves her. I talked her out of this because not knowing her beliefs, sending a small child to tell her that could seem manipulative or really not something that would make her day better. That and the fact no one wants to be disturbed during lunch.

We did things such as donating clothes to Goodwill (Day 1), or giving a woman a flower outside of the grocery store (Day 3). We colored a picture of a firefighter and brought it to one of the stations to tell them thank you for what they do (Day 6) and we donated one of his favorite stuffed animals to the Police Department to use when they interact with children (Day 13). We had an elderly couple stop while we were picking up trash at our neighborhood entrance to tell us thank you (Day 14). We colored pictures for an anonymous patient in Hospice care (Day 17).

We stopped to tell the guy cleaning the windows outside the store to “have a nice day” (Day 24) and we told the groundskeepers at the park thank you for keeping the park clean for us to play (Day 28). We (well, he) helped me “take care of a little baby” (Day 30) and colored a picture and helped me write a letter to a friend from North Carolina who is serving abroad (Day 37). Somewhere in there we went to Georgia Southern to give students a high five because, hey, who doesn’t like a high five? We even went beyond 40 days because, as I re-learned, Lent is 40 days if you don’t count Sundays, but I couldn’t figure out how to explain to a 3-year old that we didn’t have to do something good today just because it was Sunday.
So now that it’s over and I’ve had a chance to reflect on it, what did I learn? Well, I learned it’s hard to come up with 47 unique ideas of how to make someone’s day when you’re also trying to have ideas that a young child can also grasp and see the immediate impacts.

More interestingly, to me anyway, is the question of doing good works without an accompanying message of faith and its true impact. Faith, without works, are dead. But are works, with the absence of overt faith, equally dead? Is making someone’s day a little better enough? Did an absence of an evangelistic message defeat the greater purpose? Did the lack of any actual greater purpose minimize the spiritual impact? Do any of those questions really matter?

While people like the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus asking about how to receive eternal life, many others came to him*** asking for physical needs to be met, be it curing a blind man or healing a leper or something as trivial as running out of wine at a wedding. And while there was clearly an aspect of faith in coming to Jesus for help, there were also the physical needs that seemed to be the most pressing concern.  I imagine that the paralytic lowered through the roof to Jesus was probably devastated when Jesus saw him and then said “Son, your sins are forgiven.” My guess is that’s not what he was wanting at that moment.

***Jesus supports proper grammar and, therefore, the proper capitalization of pronouns.

Ultimately, I can't get too worried about the eternal ramifications of our little adventure. It’s a fun thought experiment, but one that in the end can’t be determined in this life. Our motives were to spread a little joy and make someone’s day a little better in our own little way. Some days went better than others, but overall, I think we achieved what we were going for. And if my son one day realizes that being a Christian means more than seeing a need and responding “I’ll pray for you,” then even better. For now, I’ll be happy knowing at least 47 people had one day made a little better by our efforts.