The Sports Hangover: Golfer in Chief, Hanley Ramirez Punks Juan Uribe, Player Hating on the NBA, and More

The American president golfs as the Russian president plays Risk. An NFL owner’s death shows that in football, winning remains the preferred currency. And a Minnesota state rep down in the NBA hates on the players—and the game. Welcome to the Sports Hangover.

Golfer in Chief

When John Birch Society members strangely maintained that President Dwight Eisenhower favored the USSR rather than the US, a bemused Russell Kirk responded that Ike was a golfer, not a communist. Barack Obama’s love for the links have many critics wondering if he’s a golfer, not a president. This weekend, Obama hit the links with a fearsome foursome that included former NBA center Alonzo Mourning, Vikings receiver Ahmed Rashad, and Valerie Jarret in-law Cyrus Walker. According to ObamaGolfCounter.com, the president had played 163 rounds of golf before Saturday’s one-percenter excursion in Key Largo.

 

William Clay Ford, RIP

Henry Ford gave the world the Model T. His grandson gave Detroit one playoff win. William Clay Ford’s friends and family probably loved him for a half-million legitimate reasons. But the half-million fans who passed through Ford Field gates last season know him primarily for failure. Ford bought the Detroit Lions for $6 million the month of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. Upon his death, fifty years and one playoff win later, Henry Ford’s last surviving grandchild’s investment had grown to $900 million. That makes him a great investor but a terrible owner. Sports fans can make the distinction. So, apparently, could his brother, who excluded him from management of the Ford Motor Company. Detroit’s long suffering football fans wanted a Mustang. Edsel Ford’s son gave him another model.

 

Dana White Rips ESPN

UFC light-heavyweight challenger Alexander Gustaffson beat the bag out of undefeated Brit Jim Manuwa in London this weekend. We should be talking about the gangly Swede’s rematch against the gangly Jon Jones, the most attractive fight in mixed-martial arts. Instead, Dana White’s still talking about an ESPN story blasting testosterone-replacement therapy exemptions in combat sports. Nevada imposed a ban on TRT exemptions, so a moot conversation, right? As much as I like it when someone calls out the worldwide leader in sports’s impulse for sensationalism, Dana White might be wise to heed that well-worn advice that sounds something like, “Don’t spit where you eat.”

“ESPN, as usual, they like to embellish s#!+,” White remarked about an expose on TRT in MMA that appeared at the popular sports site. “First of all, we have 500 guys under contract. Now that this new thing has come in and TRT is banned, five guys can’t take TRT out of 500. Five guys had exemptions. They made it sound like it’s rampant throughout the MMA world. Is five guys is rampant?”

Five Guys? Their hamburgers are pretty rampant—at strip malls, really rampant. Five guys enjoying TRT exemptions? Not so rampant—somewhere between Ebola and AIDS on the range of rampant. But it’s not just the until-recently sanctioned get-out-of-jail-free passes. What about all the mixed-martial artists employing other performance enhancing drugs? Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Antonio “Big Foot” Silva, and others remain stars on the UFC roster despite past offenses. Other guys, a la Lance Armstrong and ARod, use because they walk one step ahead of the lab-coated meat gazers collecting their urine. And as the death of a South African cage fighter last week reminds, the competitors can lose more than a yellow shirt in MMA.

 

Shootout over Shootouts

NHL general managers meet in Boca Raton—which really screams hockey—for the next few days to discuss, among other matters, the state of NHL overtime. About one in seven NHL games ends in a shootout. The GMs look for ways to shrink that fraction. Given the larger number of goals scored during the second period, which forces teams to make a “long change” because the goalies defend the net further from the bench, GMs have discussed modeling overtime on the second frame. Other ideas focus on 3-3 scenarios and elongating the overtime.

Be careful what you wish for. Sylvania Northview and Cleveland’s St. Ignatius played to a 1-1 tie after seven overtimes on Saturday. Both schools now boast state championship bragging rights. Nobody likes ties. But are they really worse than declaring a fake winner after a shootout? Why not settle NBA stalemates with dunking competitions or extra innings with home-run derbies? If you hate ties enough to extend play, then prepare for extended play. If not, prepare for an outcome even less satisfactory than a tie. Just ask the Red Wings, whose 8 shootout losses appear as a major reason why they’re currently on the outside-looking-in at the postseason.

 

Take the Money and Run

Saul Canelo Alvarez beat up Alfredo Angulo for ten rounds on Saturday night. He pocketed $1.2 million, which, given the economics of boxing, rates as a major payday. But he earned a guaranteed $5 million, with bonuses atop of that given the phenomenal pay-per view buys, in playing punching bag to Floyd Mayweather in September. Why fight on? The question may strike some as perverse. At 23, Alvarez boxes at an elite level, with the peak of his career yet to come. But he’s already faced the best and fallen short. In the wake of Rashard Mendenhall stepping away from the NFL at 26, the idea of Saul Alvarez retiring at 23 doesn’t seem so strange. The downsides for remaining in the ring too long, as James Toney’s speech or Muhammad Ali’s shake suggest, are higher than the upsides. Alas, it’s prize fighting. Alvarez fights for paydays. And given the lack of marketable personalities in boxing, he has set himself up for bigger ones. With great rewards come great risks.

 

League of Thugs?

“Let’s be honest, 70% of teams in NBA could fold tomorrow + nobody would notice a difference w/possible exception of increase in streetcrime,” Minnesota state legislator Pat Garofalo tweeted this weekend. As one comment on my piece on the controversy observed, he erred in leaving out the disastrous economic harm that would be endured by tattoo parlors.

Almost every NBA player won’t endure a run-in with the law this year. So, Garofalo’s intemperate tweet falls under the hyperbole-as-staple-of-political-rhetoric category. And with the Timberwolves struggling for a playoff spot, it’s unlikely that the fallout will be as consequential for the state rep as if he had slammed hockey.

Perception, as recently-retired NBA commissioner David Stern surely understood in his waning days on the throne, matters for a league dependent on ratings and ticket sales. Who wants to subsidize gangsta lifestyles? One wonders if this negative perception of NBA players, however unfair, plays into the overlooked assumption of Garofalo’s tweet that the NBA draws a niche audience and its existence matters little to most. Just six percent of respondents called professional basketball their favorite sport in a recent Harris poll. That’s down from 13 percent during the Jordan era. Why? LeBron James, a dynamic player at his peak, should grab the casual sports fan’s attention. But for casual fans, the Javaris Crittentons of the world spoil the fun. Might the widespread acceptance of the questionable part of Garofalo’s tweet (dismissing basketball players as criminals) go a long way toward explaining why the other assumption in the tweet (the NBA isn’t terribly popular) comes across more as unquestioned reality than irresponsible rhetoric?

 

League of Jokers

If sports has become too serious for you, with steroid scandals and top athletes facing murder raps, there's always baseball. When I worked at Fenway Park, I witnessed Dennis Lamp buy--so much as a man without a wallet can buy anything--a hot dog from the bullpen and Steve Lyons play catch with a fan in the upper deck. Spring training, like the creative facial hair increasingly worn by players, shows us that baseball is fun. Hanley Ramirez's prank of teammate Juan Uribe, immortalized on Instagram, advertises that men still play a kid's game.


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