Monday, August 22, 2011

Fewer Meatballs for Me, Thanks [Mondays with Gus]

While I'm not leaving the beloved “Meatballs In The Morning” to start some stupid knockoff called “Bratwurst In The Afternoon” or something, I am going to be pulling back quite a bit and wanted to tell everyone why; I'll be a teaching assistant for Kent State University's Department of Anthropology (Editor's note: Ken't Read Ken't Write, Kent State). This means grading papers, holding office hours, and writing my thesis (on the impact of war in Palestine on children, in case you're interested) in order to get my master's degree. It's an incredible honor for me to represent Kent State and the State of Ohio in this way. The problem is, in order to truly focus on the task at hand I have to scale back some of the fun stuff. Now for some behind the scenes stuff that I couldn't get to.

The article that was the overwhelming favorite of readers was the response to Troy Polamalu's brother-in-law, Alex Holmes. I wrote one article saying that Troy wasn't the best safety in the NFL, based on an analysis I had done (I didn't know until later that Peter King posted an article that same day saying Troy isn't a top level NFL player). I came to the conclusion that Ed Reed was the best. As many of you know, Alex absolutely flipped. I mention this because there was a funny after-story that never quite made it onto MITM.

Not only did Alex flip out to me, he also told a few of his buddies to do the same. Travis Johnson (of the San Diego Chargers at the time) tweeted “Jackass... you don't know what ur talking about”. He also chimed in by calling me “stupid” and said “Play the game not on the wii and we might let you say hi.” He would later backtrack after I notified him that I defended the NFL players regarding the lockout in previous articles.

After my response was posted, Alex took some flak and deleted all of his tweets about me (the phrase “bottom feeder” was my favorite). Then, the NFL players chimed in with their Top 100 players, and sure enough they voted Ed Reed above Troy Polamalu. To this day, Alex and Travis have never responded to my request for comment.

Looking to the future, I still have no idea what my less frequent articles will be like, because I've had so much fun writing in different styles. Live blogging the NBA Finals game was just as fun as writing about the Kentucky Derby. If you have any ideas, hit me up. If you want to follow me on my path to political and social writing, find me on twitter. Either way, thanks for reading and reacting.

-Gus Rafeedie

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pool: Is it a Sport?

I'm going to lump Pool and Darts together in this week's IIAS edition (ugh that's an ugly acronym) because they are both played in bars. Actually, any other deal that's played in bars, we'll include that too: Bumper Pool, the pool with no holes (where you just bounce the balls off walls, seemingly), etc.

First things first: it's on ESPN. Well billiards is, or it used to be at least, not sure anymore. So that makes me think it's a sport - just kidding, ESPN also plays Poker and the Spelling Bee, which clearly aren't athletic at all. You can definitely play defense in pool so that's a factor in it's favor. Definitely lots of gamesmanship and strategy in both darts and pool. However, where is the athleticism. No sustained effort in either venture, not much in the way of hand-eye coordination. An extremely low risk of injury because you're not really using a ton of force  at any point. Well, unless you get hit below the belt with a ball or catch a dart to the grillpiece when you're walking across the playing field/line/surface/floor.

Back to the bowling argument I've made in this space (or maybe just in conversation at lunch, I forget), if you feel like it's more fun after a few beers, that's going to take points away from it being a sport.

Basically, I feel the same way about darts and billiards as the comely Ginger (shock, she's wearing purple! they always wear purple or green) in this Zoosk commercial.

Verdict: Not a Sport.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cheerleading: Is it a Sport?

Judging by the fact that typing cheerleading in this blog window made Google underline it with the red squiggly line, letting me know that it's not a word, this one is going to have a hard time getting called a sport in this space.

Break the word down: Cheer Leading...leading cheers. Cheering happens when there is something good happening, typically on a playing field. So in the absence of another sport or activity worthy of cheers, can cheerleeading exist? There are competitions all over the country, teen movies based on it and hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of girls...and boys who practice and perform without a football game going on in the foreground. That makes it seem like it can stand alone, but it doesn't necessarily make it a sport.

I don't want to take anything away from the people who participate, because the amount of practice it takes to nail a tossing double flip somersault is wildly impressive and absolutely athletic. But at its core, cheerleading is being a coordinated super fan who dances and yells/sings. When your activity loses a ton of meaning and value when it's removed from a supporting act and moved to the forefront, it ain't a sport. 

Verdict: Not a Sport

Free Agency vs. The Draft [Mondays with Gus on Thursday, because I screwed up]

I'm one of the few people that believe the Cleveland Browns have had a great off season. Many people say that the Browns should have done more to bring in free agents rather than build primarily through the draft. There is a lot of information out there about how talented some of the free agents are, and I'm here to explain some of the things that don't get discussed.

For starters, free agents that leave their team rarely get paid to play to less than their potential. Or, put in a different way they're usually overpaid. There's a reason these guys didn't get re-signed in the first place, and that reason is rarely that the original team didn't have the money. If the player were worth the money, the team will usually make room. In the case of the Browns, they certainly have the money available. Why not go after free agents? It's not just that they're usually overpaid. Often times, free agents just don't have motivation to play like younger players do. Think about it. You've just cashed in tens of millions of dollars, and you now have enough to retire comfortably when you leave the game. You could keep working your butt off, but why? You've already been given the big prize. Also, since rookie contracts usually take you to at or near your prime, you're very likely to be well beyond your prime when your new big contract is up, so you have no big money to play for anymore (other than to not get cut and lose a lot of your money). Furthermore, nobody wants to move their family, pick a new place to live, and get used to a new culture and climate (usually). But, free agents have to do that every time they sign a new deal. It disrupts their family life, and that usually translates on the field. Draftees have it different.

Draftees are looking forward to that fat contract. They know if they play really well, they're going to end up getting paid somewhere. Not only that, they hit the big time thanks to the team that drafted them! Do you think a veteran that strikes it rich (usually for the second time) is going to love the team he plays for as much a guy who just had that team help him accomplish his life goal of playing in the NFL? Motivation is a huge factor in drafting well, because most players want to be loyal to their team.

Not only that, now with a rookie wage scale, it only makes sense to pile up draft picks and try to get as many rookies on the team as possible. It makes the team's salary structure much more predictable (and low). Also, if a team can get a few good draft classes together than the core of the team is in the same age range (3 draft classes worth of players will be only two years apart). This makes it easier to establish a specific window of success because the most important players are reaching their primes at about the same time. With free agents and rookies together, teams will end up having some players reaching their primes while other have to wait. Once the younger players catch up, the expensive free agents are usually at the tail end of their careers.

It's a lot more complicated than just buying a player that has a lot of talent. It takes a lot to convince 53 players and a dozen or more coaches to work together. There's a reason people like Tom Brady have never been free agents, while it happened to Jeff Garcia all the time. Don't take my word for it, just ask the Oakland Raiders and the Washington Redskins if you can build through free agency.

-Gus Rafeedie

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Auto Racing: Is it a Sport?

NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, Moto GP, Rolex Series, Le Mans, American Le Mans, World SuperBike, AMA Pro Racing, etc. There are more subsets, classes and series of motorsport than there are of any other sport. For the purposes of this argument, we'll place them under the same umbrella.

At this point, I'll probably toss a disclaimer in, that I work at a racetrack... so you probably know what the verdict is going to be already, but read on to find out why I'm calling it a sport.

I could go on for thousands of words about this stuff, but guess what, I'm in race mode right now because the track I work at has a race this weekend. Shoot, I'm running around so much right now it's almost a sport just promoting it. 

Here are a couple of quick points on why it's a sport:
-Especially in endurance races, the constant switch from gas to brake is the equivalent of a light jog for a couple hours (ask Allan McNish)
-With the speeds some racecars reach, the g-forces the drivers are enduring make everything so much harder to do...turning your head, the wheel, moving your feet, all much more difficult. Related to that, the amount of force required to turn the wheel at speed is the same force you need to lift a 20 lb dumbell. Imagine doing that for say, 13 turns in about 67 seconds.
-The mental fatigue that builds up from pushing a car to its limits for hour after hour is a beatdown.
-Last point, we talk about hockey being athletically demanding because the players have to learn a whole new mode of transportation.  Same thing goes in racing, except beyond controlling your own body/glove/stick/bat/racket, you have to control something much bigger and much more powerful than you.

...and one against it:
-You're sitting down the whole time

That's not enough, you need

Verdict: It's a sport.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Answering Questions of Race in Sports [Mondays with Gus]

Often times in America, we wait until there is some kind of racially divisive issue before we discuss issues of race and racism. This doesn't have to be the case. A wise man once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of effort.” So, in order to help educate sports fans without making them feel awkward by asking a question that may make them sound like a racist, I've decided to answer a few of those questions for you.

  1. Why are there so many Latinos in Major League Baseball? Latin America has a population of over 500 million (the US has a population a little over 300 million), and that would explain part of the large Latino representation. Furthermore, a significant number of the US population is also Latino. Since baseball is a such an accessible sport, the fact that the United States has a higher standard of living doesn't have much of an impact on the numbers. All you need is a stick and a ball, and those are very easily made as long as there is a tree nearby.
  2. Why are so many NBA players black? The racist answer here is that black people are somehow more athletically gifted than white people by way of genetics. Wrong. If black people are more athletic, there would be a cultural explanation. Anyone that has lived in an urban setting knows that sports become more of a way of life than they do in the suburbs. In the inner city, trouble finds you. So, parents (and the city design, often times) encourage an engagement in extracurricular activities. Since the suburbs contain mostly white folks, and the inner cities contain a higher concentration of black people, your question is answered.
  3. Why aren't there more black coaches in the NFL? The even larger question should be asked about general managers in the NFL. The answer is simple: Racism. Nothing else can explain (legitimately) why close to 2/3 of the NFL players are black and nothing remotely close to that number is true of head coaches and general managers. Without the Rooney Rule, where all NFL head coaching vacancies must interview a minority candidate, was installed not to force teams to hire minorities. It was installed because of the racism of NFL owners. The rule doesn't state who you have to hire, only who you interview. The fact that it does that goes to show that many black coaches couldn't even get an interview without a legal precedent by the NFL, let alone get a job. Since the rule has been put into place, more black coaches have gotten jobs. Funny how once you give them a chance they end up proving their value.

Remember, there are usually cultural answers to questions of race and stereotypes. We often times look for the easy answer because it makes the world less complicated to us. If that's the case with you, don't be afraid to have someone else give you the answer. I can't speak for all minorities, but I don't think you will look like a racist if you're asking the question in a respectable way and truly seeking a legitimate answer. For example “Do black people have more muscles than white people?” is not the same as asking “Why does it seem like black people dominate certain sports?” Open up by admitting that you're noticing a trend, rather than saying “This is how it is. Why is that?” and you'll get good answers. Because realistically, we're not getting any smarter as sports fans if we keep ignoring the questions we really want to ask.

-Gus Rafeedie