Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Frank Deford's "The Rabbit Hunter"

I recently read Frank Deford's 1982 Sports Illustrated article, "The Rabbit Hunter,"which, at the time, was one of the most intimate (sic) discussions of NCAA basketball coach Bobby Knight.

Whereas my prior inclinations towards and thoughts of Bobby Knight were that he is a nihilistic, bullying, profligate, Napoleon-complex of a man whose credentials are inflated beyond pacification, I left Deford's article maintaining my beliefs, but, if anything, I gained a slight understanding of the roots of his cynicism and immorality.

While Deford is the writer I long to become, this article failed in succinctly presenting his research and anecdotal evidence in that its organization is reminiscent of a failed high school journalism exercise. His piece is divided into six sections, whose titles are less meaningful than his rationale for the organization scheme. As a means to improve the article, to begin with, the piece should have not been separated into sections, but rather presented in a hybrid-chronological order.

If I were to reorganize the piece, I'd present the piece in chronological order with, brief, flash-forwards as a means to portray how his past has shaped his personality.

I don't believe that Deford's greatest shortcoming here is in the organization of the piece, but rather in the way he uses evidence, quotes, and his own personal anecdotes to present a picture of Knight. It's often difficult to discern whose point of view Deford is using and, when you can, its virtually impossible to separate the most logical depiction of Knight from the emotional. While journalism, obviously, is an exercise is presenting facts so that a reader may form his or her own opinion on the matter, journalists often need to present some form of individual analysis; readers grow to trust individual journalists' judgements.

It's a Right, not a Privilege (#10)

Home Jersey

Ismael Blanco - Argentina Forward

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A 9-year-old could rebuff this story. . .

As I've already written a post concerning MLS today, I'm reluctant to struggle over another. However, based on some of my comments this morning and an ESPN Soccernet story from yesterday I just read, it seems like humiliated destiny.

MLS Commission Don Garber is going to give a speech at the upcoming "Leaders in Football" conference where he will discuss and recommend that European leagues adopt MLS style financial controls and policies in an attempt to curtail the excessive spending that characterized this past transfer season.

Garber's main recommendation will be a salary cap -- the current MLS salary cap is $2.3 million. However, the MLS has adopted the "designated player" (or David Beckham) clause where a team may choose a single player to pay without salary cap restrictions -- only $415,000 of that players salary counts against the cap.

UEFA will recommend a new policy that will require a club to break even in a fiscal year -- each team is only permitted to spend what they earned from "soccer-related income" (I'm not sure if this includes endorsement deals or not).

I agree with both recommendations, actually, but only in part. It's clear that eccentric spending is poor for the leagues; not only does it send a questionable proclivity to the fan community, but its impact on general league performance is considered negative.

These passages were worth quoting:

"I hope to present some of the experiences we have had in the MLS and in other leagues as perhaps, if not blueprint, a guide as European football starts looking at financial fair play," Garber said. . ."That is the key driver to the stability that exists in our major leagues -- and there is tremendous stability in American sport."

Since 1970: only 10 different teams have won the premier league title, only 9 different teams have won Serie A, only 8 different teams have won La Liga, 11 different teams have won Bundesliga, and 9 different teams have won Ligue 1.

Compared with, in the same period, 19 different MLB champions, 14 different NBA Champions, and 18 different NFL Champions.

I spoke with a fellow Zinedine Zidane fan earlier about this notion and, ultimately, we were both conflicted. Whereas sports fans enjoy the notion of a David and where I'm always partial to egalitarian policies in sports, do worldwide football fans want the end of a 4 (5 if included Manchester City) club dominance in the English Premier League, a 3 club dominance in Serie A, a 2 club (although I'm on the Sevilla bandwagon) dominance in La Liga, etc. . .

It seems bad for business that, before the season began, 15/20 clubs in the EPL were immediately dismissed. And now, with Liverpool's struggles, there's only 4 teams of significance.

However, you don't often hear much criticism of this select team dominance amongst football fans; it's often more regarded as a fact of history and tradition. Consider Manchester City's emergence as an EPL contender; the degree of criticism that team owner Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan and manager Mark Hughes have received is unparalleled. Although Manchester City engaged in similar transfer season fashion as Manchester United typically has, as Chelsea, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Barcelona, etc. have, they've been presented as a foe to the status quo, a challenger to the conservative white man culture that is English football.

"So while businessmen such as Stan Kroenke at Colorado and Philip Anschutz at the Galaxy could match the spending of Madrid and others, they are prevented from doing so."

"They don't use that capability as a means to win at all costs," Garber said. "That's just part of the DNA of American sport, revenue sharing, salary caps, the close relationships with our players through collective bargaining and union agreements."

Has Garber ever heard of Major League Baseball? While they have revenue sharing and salary cap fines, there are half a dozen teams whose annual expenses are immensely greater than their peers.
Is Garber aware that MLB has gone on strike over collective bargaining and union agreements?
Is Garber aware that the NBA did also?
Is Garber aware that it's going to happen in the NFL in near future?

Furthermore, the MLS business model isn't working. As I mentioned earlier today, Forbes studied the MLS teams and calculated revenue and net worth (via Forbes):

L.A. Galaxy -- Value $100 million; Operating Income $4 million
Toronto FC -- Value $44 million; Operating Income $2.1 million
Chicago Fire -- Value $41 million; Operating Income -$3.1 million
FC Dallas - Value $39 million; Operating Income $0.5 million
New York Red Bulls -- Value $36 million; Operating Income -$4.5 million
D.C. United -- Value $35 million, Operating Income -$3.0 million
Houston Dynamo -- Value $33 million; Operating Income -$1.8 million
Colorado Rapids -- Value $31 million; Operating Income -$2.2 million
Real Salt Lake -- Value $30 million, Operating Income -$2.1 million
New England Revolution -- Value $27 million, Operating Income -$1.5 million
Chivas USA - Value $24 million; Operating Income -$1.0 million
Columbus Crew -- Value $23 million; Operating Income -$4.5 million
Kansas City Wizards -- Value $22 million, Operating Income -$2.9 million

Compared with European Clubs:
*I took the top two teams (based on value) from each country via Forbes, but was unable to find any information concerning poorer forming clubs. Look for a future update, hopefully.

Manchester United -- Value $1.87 billion; Operating Income $160 million
Arsenal -- Value $1.2 billion; Operating Income $80 million

Real Madrid -- Value $1.353 billion; Operating Income $81 million
F.C. Barcelona -- Value $960 million; Operating Income $108 million

AC Milan -- Value $990 million; Operating Income $58 million
Juventus -- Value $600 million; Operating Income $46 million

Bayern Munich -- Value $1.11 billion; Operating Income $59 million
Schalke 04 -- Value $510 million; Operating Income $46 million

Olympique Lyonnais -- Value $423 million; Operating Income $94 million
Olympique Marseille -- Value $240 million; Operating Income $20 million

For context, here are the top American sports teams (by value) via Forbes:

New York Yankees -- Value $1.5 billion, Operating Income -$3.7 million
New York Mets -- Value $912 million; Operating Income $23.5 million

New York Knicks -- Value $613 million; Operating Income $29.6 million
Los Angeles Lakers -- Value $584 million; Operating Income $47.9 million

Dallas Cowboys -- Value $1.7 billion; Operating Income $9.2 million
Washington Redskins -- Value $1.6 billion; Operating Income $90.3 million

So. . .
The MLS business plan doesn't work; 10/13 MLS teams reported an Operating Income loss.

Exemplifying why the MLS business plan doesn't work

While I typically refrain from commenting on -- or even watching -- Major League Soccer as it only adds to my aggravation with American soccer, I couldn't resist to comment on this most recent example illustrating why the MLS seems destined for failure.

Columbus Crew President & General Manager Mark McCullers recently posted on the the club's official blog (the Black & Gold Standard):

"We have respectfully requested that the chants including profanity, most importantly GTFO, cease. . .
"During our highest attended game of the year, with the opportunity to impress people that might attend more Crew games at Crew stadium, we instead left a negative impression with unnecessary chanting of unacceptable profanity. . .
"We have received numerous complaints from fans, and now have indications from sponsors that they are reconsidering their financial support because they cannot be associated with an environment that includes this behavior. . .
"We must identify and deal with those who insist on perpetuating this behavior, which explains the increased security measures."

Essentially, McCullen is claiming that the use of profanity by the Nordecke (the supposed "supporter" group of the Crew) is resulting in complaints from other fans, a general lack of enjoyment for fans at the matches, and is, most importantly in McCullen's eyes, having financial repercussion via lost endorsements. In the future, the use of profanity by fans, seemingly, will result in an ejection from the stadium.

The Columbus Crew is currently managed by the Hunt Sports Group -- who also manages F.C. Dallas and the Kansas City Wizards. While the Crew are currently in first place eastern conference table, they're hardly the staple for successful football in America.

In August, Forbes compiled an assessment of MLS franchises. Based on total team worth, the Hunt Sports Group's teams are, as follows: F.C. Dallas (#4 with $39 million value and a $0.5 million operating income), the Columbus Crew (#12 with $23 million value and a -$4.5 million operating income), and the Kansas City Wizards (#13 with $22 million value and a -$2.9 million operating income).

The Hunt Sports Group business plan doesn't work. . .

In this instance, the Columbus Crew administration is trying to appeal to another segment of football fans (soccer moms and their small children) through this new anti-profanity direction. Though I've often criticized it, the, for lack of a better term, "hooligan" culture is the general fan base for football. Whereas violence and hate is not condoned, the use of unifying chants (even those involving indecency) are a vital element of the fan culture.

While I'm often quick to condemn unruly behavior on behalf of footballers and football fans, profanity hardly seems to be tabooish these days -- unless you're a science defying christian conservative.

The Chicago Cubs remain one of the most nationally popular MLB franchises (often viewed as a sensitive, respectable, welcoming team -- I mean "Cubs"), yet I learned at an early age that the bleachers weren't acceptable for children, or the god-fearing.

Aside from the general idiocy of anti-profanity measures at a football match, how can a financially struggling club, in sincerity and in good business, attempt to alienate its strongest faction of supporters. This is the equivalent of telling Ohio State fans that they can no longer wear "Muck Fichigan" t-shirts.

For the MLS to succeed, they need to develop a the football fan culture (minus the violence) that characterizes European football. Football is a culture of beer, of indecency, of celebration, of remorse, of cruelty. It is a ballet for the masses (the non status quo). NASCAR is the most attended sport in America (don't get me started on how embarrassing this is to America) and I hardly think that profanity is banned on track grounds.

Ultimately, football's appeal revolves around the unparalleled relationship that fans develop with their clubs (also international squads). The ability to develop a seemingly sincere bond with the shadow of a footballer (club) is the catalyst for fiscal success in football.

This all comes from me, the guy that made the cheerleader girlfriend of a then high school Duke University basketball star cry during a game due to my excessive chanting concerning her adulterous behavior during the summer -- all of which I've never felt remorse over, my team won.


Monday, October 5, 2009

FA getting with the times. . .

Saturday's England vs. Ukraine World Cup qualifier is going to be broadcasted exclusively on the internet in the UK. The backstory is that Setanta Sports, who was originally licensed to broadcast the match, folded earlier this year and, in a scramble, the rights were sold to Perform, a digital sports broadcaster. The match will be shown at

Supposedly, none of the UK's traditional broadcasters were willing to pay the asking price to screen the game.

The FA's official statement is: "We would obviously like to see the game broadcast to as many people as possible" but insisted the matter was out of his organisation's hands."

If I were not disgusted by, fed up with, and dispassionate over England football and, particularly, English Football fans, I may have some sympathy for them.

As I become increasingly educated in and aware of the intricacies of English Football, it seems that their "old-boys" network and overtly conservative practices surpass that of even American College Football and Major League Baseball. As I'm without satellite television or Fox Soccer Channel (although I do have GolTV), I'm unable to watch most football matches these days -- the upcoming USA vs. Honduras World Cup qualifier, which, unlike the England vs. Ukraine match, actually matters, is not being broadcast in the United States, not even on the Internet.

Ultimately, the analyzing question I ask myself over this matter is: does streaming the football match make the match available to more or less fans, elite or everyman fans, and, in the end, will it advance football causes to a larger, youthful audience?

While it seems that this move will secure less fans and less households than it would had the match been broadcast on television, it does seem like this incident may aid in contemporarily advancing English football.

On a side note, I was going to write a condemning post of Real Madrid after I watched their loss at Sevilla F.C. yesterday. Earlier in the year, I published my prediction that Real Madrid was going to win both the UEFA Champions League as well as La Liga. While I was going to rescind that prediction after watching F.C. Barcelona dance their way to victory after victory and after watching Real Madrid look inflated, dull, and overly-confident throughout the entire game, I'm still not certain that a Christiano Ronaldo Real Madrid isn't superior to Barcelona.

It's a Right, not a Privilege (#9)

Home Jersey

Joseph Akpala - Stiker (Nigeria)

Friday, September 25, 2009

It's a right, not a privilege (#8)

Spain National Team Home Jersey

David Villa - Fo
rward (Valencia)

Spain is my favo
rite World Cup team, of the major contenders, and, hands-down, David Villa is my favorite Spanish international. The dude is nasty. Look for a future post on my World Cup inclinations.

Photo(s): Spain Je
rsey, David Villa

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A note on racism. . .

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a rather cynical, ill-conceived rant concerning the Emmanuel Adebayor incident involving his behavior at the Mancheser City vs. Arsenal match. In this overtly condemning post, I stated that Adebayor should have been punished for both his "stamp" on Arsenal's Robin Van Persie, as well as his pitch-length celebration following his goal.

Since publishing, I've become increasingly aware of both the details of the incident, as well as gained a clearer understanding of the football climate and cultural context. While I still firmly believe that the FA was correct in punishing Emmanuel for kicking Van Persie, the punishment for his celebration seems increasingly inappropriate -- Adebayor was issued a three-game suspension.

There have been a few recent events which have encouraged my change in attitude:

1) Craig Bellamy's actions at last weekend's Manchester derby featuring Manchester City and Manchester United.

As seems obvious, at least to me, Bellamy struck a man, who was IN CUSTODY at the time, in the face. Originally, the FA announced that they would look into the matter and the Manchester Police said they would launch a probe as well. However, this morning it was announced that the Manchester Police had dropped the investigation and the FA would not pursue any punishment. The FA claimed that they decided against charging Bellamy with improper conduct because "referee Martin Atkinson told FA officials that he would not have sent off the Welsh star had he seen the incident. (EuroSport)"

2) Gary Neville's bench behavior at the Derby.
I searched for footage of the incident, but couldn't find anything. Neville ran the length of the pitch along the sideline, toward Manchester City fans, to celebrate following Michael Owen's 97' goal, and, once arriving in front of the fans, he seemingly realized what he did and returned to the bench, acting as if he had just been warming up--in the 97 minute of a match that should have been over after 95 minutes. Today, the FA announced that Neville would receive no punishment.

3) Allegations of racism surrounding Blackburn forward El-Hadji Diouf.

As told by Diouf, during his team's defeat of Mersyside, he went to retrieve an out of play ball when a ballboy innapropriately threw the ball back towards Diouf ("The ball-boy threw the ball at me like a bone to a dog"). T major allegations made are by the ballboy, who claims that Diouf exerted -- for lack of a better term and with foreshadowing symbolism in mind -- "reverse racism" on him in his verbal harassment.

Further, Diouf is now claiming that Everton fans threw bananas at him in his most recent match after the allegations of verbal abuse surrounding the ballboy incident. Everton has since denied the "fruit throwing" allegations after they were unable to find any bananas on the pitch following play and, further, are demanding an apology from Diouf.

4) Blackpool's Jason Euell subjected to racism by Stoke supporters.

Bellamy's actions were more severe than Adebayor's -- Adebayor merely incited aggression among Arsenal fans while Bellamy physically struck a Manchester United fan; Neville's celebration was as ill-conceived and virtually identical to Adebayor's -- minus the fact that Neville didn't score the goal himself.

With regards to celebrations, I've matured in a Terrell Owens; Chad Ocho Cinco; Tiger Woods fist pump riddled culture. To me, if an athlete wants to take a moment to, in moderate, celebrate following a goal/score, then he or she is most certainly entitled to, while using an ethical judgment. Entertaining, creative celebrations are just that; entertaining. Context is important, as it was in the Adebayor incident where his celebration resulted in fans throwing objects on the pitch, but if celeb
ration's are seemingly part of the football culture, then it's difficult to deduce when a celebration crosses the line. What is comical and enjoyable to one football fan is another man's temperamental catalyst.

Using the four aforementioned incidents as a contextual framework to look at the Adebayor incident, there seems a fairly prevalent juxtaposition in the significant cultural and contextual elements: race.

I'm not going to claim that either the FA or Arsenal fans in attendance of the match are inherently racist. Nor am I going to claim that the media are. But, it must be noted that the climate surrounding Adebayor was unusually hostile and the aftermath was not typical and seemed unnecessary. Just as it has been accused of playing a di
rty role in current American politics surrounding the unusually critical and insidious environment surrounding President Obama, it seems as if race is playing a role in the Adebayor situation, at least in a contextual framework.

There is an unmistakable racist element to football, particularly English football. Not only has the fan culture perpetuated this claim, but the very acts of the administrations and institutions has as well.

I recently charged the FA with implementing a policy with nativist, protectionist, racist elements to it.

While this post isn't exclusive to English football, the
re is a clear divide in media coverage and international acceptance when it comes to English football; an international press largely dominated by individuals with a particular investment in English football/culture clearly affects the sports media coverage. It does seem however, that other leagues, (ie. Italy Serie A) are combating racism on a stricter level than the FA currently is.

Wherein sports are seemingly an egalitarian exercise where individuals are forced onto an even playing field, an environment without status quo restraints, a place where the proverbial David can feat the Goliath. Yet, the institutional framework of sports carries with it a tendency for an old-boys-network of ownership, corporation, and conservative policies. As is seen in the rigorous vetting of owners in the premiere league (as is similar in American sports leagues) as well as the stereotype of the "great white hope" footballer, the underlying parliamentary, conservative ideologies and beliefs of British society are carried into the countries national pastime.

r more information read an online copy of "The Changing Face of Football: racism, identity and multiculture in the English game" (Here)

I also came ac
ross an organization dedicated to combating racism in football, Kick it Out (Here)

Stay democ
ratic . . .


re is an excerpt from an article I wrote on the American sports media and its racist tendencies:

"While our memories of Michael Jordan collapsing over gold trophies, or
him silencing a crowd and ruining dreams with final moments of greatness
25 times in his career; or a young, charismatic Tiger Woods strolling
victory laps Sundays at Augusta National or his descend into emotion
crying in his father's arms may stand as great moments in sporting
history; a black glove solute by Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the
1968 Olympics, a conscious objection by Muhammad Ali in Houston in the
spring of 1967, or Jackie Robinson stepping to home plate in 1947 exist
as critical moments in our lives today.
. .
"Although the racial atmosphere in sports has changed dramatically in
recent history, today the media stands as the most scrutinized
perpetrator of racial generalizations, stereotypes, and ill-commentary
in the sporting world. In the age of ESPN, ESPN 2,, and the
BlackBerry, sports fans are increasingly able to develop relationships
with their favorite stars and are, unfortunately, subjected to mounting
doses of cattiness and vernacular cruelty from sports writers and

Continue reading . . .

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Hughes looks to change the entire game. . .

Sorry for the recent absence, but water + Macintosh = bad.

This weekend's Manchester United vs. Manchester City derby classic proved worth the all of the pre-match conversation. Not only has controversy surrounded the match outcome, the behavior of the players, but the conversation to follow the match as well.

For those who missed the outcome (recap here), United substitute Michael Owen scored in the 97th minute (some say 96') to edge out a 4-3 victory. Earlier in stoppage time, Craig Bellamy scored his second goal of the match (somewhere between 90:45 and 91:25). The issue that has arisen is why the match lasted for 97 minutes when the referee only showed that four minutes of stoppage time would be added.
Beside for the outcome of the match (I hate both teams anyways), this incident has stirred some conversation concerning the use of stoppage time and, perhaps, the addition of a fourth referee, as suggested by Manchester City manager Mark Hughes. As reported by ESPN, Hughes has alluded that he would support a policy similar to that of the rugby union: where the clock is paused for stoppages, rather than the addition of stoppage time following the completion of play.

Fulham manager Roy Hodgson commented that:
"That would move us away from football as we know it and into the realms of ice hockey and American Football."
"That [time-keeping system] suits America because the adverts come in every time there is a stoppage. I would be disappointed if football went down that route. Of course I have great sympathy for people like Mark Hughes. When you have played well and you think you have got a great result it is awful to lose a game in the last minute, whether that is the 89th or 98th."

"You just have to learn to live with it. I am of that very old school that believes referees must be given the right to referee the game and make decisions. It is not an exact science. For me, referees are the arbiters and we have to abide by their decision."
Perhaps what most separates football from American sports is the absence of a sponsor driven, endorsement riddled culture. While yes many of the premiere footballers today do have endorsement deals (Nike cleats, etc.), while yes football teams have a major jersey deal and, in some cases, secondary endorsements as well, while yes football pitches are often bordered by sponsorships, there is a significant difference between endorsement support of football(ers) and a commercial endorsement arrangement that changes the very nature of the sport.

Today, NFL games are divided into 12-minute quarters where commercial breaks occur after every score and after every possession change (with the exception of the 2 minute warning). DirectTV features a tape-delayed airing of NFL games where all "stoppages" are removed: what begins as a 3 1/2 hour death-march of testosterone and coaching, becomes 30 minutes of action.
On the other end, football is 90-100 minutes of action, nonstop, with a 15-20 minute break halfway through the match.

Is it possible that football's worldwide popularity is (partially) due to the ease of watching due to only a roughly two hour commitment?

While it's unlikely that we'll see any changes to the time-keeping system in the future, it's unquestionably improper to criticize the very system of the game. It's one thing to criticize an individual referee or an isolated incident, but it's entirely another to use inadequacies in the system as an excuse for a loss.
Ultimately, Mark Hughes is trying to blame the system of football for his team's loss, rather than the fact that his team let a last minute goal occur, when they should have had 9 men playing fullback/corner back at that point in the match anyways.
Hughes recently called on the media and football commuity for "less hysteria" in Manchester City stories (ESPN Here). Well, if he wants less hysteria then maybe a) he shouldn't have broken football ranks and spent so much offseason transfer fees that the FA had to enact a rule change, b) Emmauel Adebayor shouldn't have instigated violence amongst Arsenal fans, c) Bellamy shouldn't have punched a fan in the face, and d) Hughes should keep his mouth quiet in the media.

Quotes via ESPN