The 23-day weekend in Russia has mercifully come to an end. The conclusion of the once-in-a-four-year-lifetime event puts us back to business as usual: March Madness, the NFL Combine, spring training, NASCAR, and after nearly a month’s respite, the NHL.
Is It Homophobic to Say That Jason Collins Is Horrible?
Jason Collins’s debut as the NBA’s first openly-gay player works nicely as a metaphor for Brooklyn’s season: big on hype, short on delivery. Collins scored zero points on the Lakers but fouled their players five times in eleven minutes. As far as the “gay basketball player” bit goes, Collins has the gay part down. He might want to work on the basketball. At 35, and with a ten-day contract, Collins probably won’t stick around long. And although Brooklyn’s signing may be a gimmick–a nice distraction from awful, expensive acquisitions, atrocious coaching, and horrible play–Collins isn’t one. He’s a legitimate NBA player. Anyone who has stuck around for thirteen seasons surely is, and the Nets’ needs–and Collins’s history with Nets players and their coach–makes his signing understandable. But the fact that he’s stuck around means that Collins plays way past his sell-by date. Like bad milk, he stinks. But at least fans can talk about something other than Brooklyn’s bust of a season, and that’s the point.
How Much Do You Bench?
Remember when Reed Rothchild asked Dirk how much he benched? That scene gets repeated ad infinitum in Indianapolis over the next day or so. I don’t think the scouts ask the prospects if they’ve seen that movie Star Wars. North Carolina offensive lineman Russell Bodine bench pressed 225 pounds for 42 repetitions at the NFL Combine. As it turns out, this matters more in alpha-male boasting sessions than in the NFL. Justin Ernest of Eastern Kentucky set the NFL Combine record of 51 reps back in 1999. He never made it into an actual NFL game. South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney? He put up 225 just twenty-one times.
But they run in football as well as push. Clowney, who stands six-foot, six-inches tall and weighs 250 pounds, ran a 4.47 forty. To put this into perspective, quarterback Johnny Manziel, whose speed everyone gushes over, ran an unofficial 4.56. I hope, for his safety, he doesn’t have Clowney chasing after him next season.
The fastest time at this year’s NFL Combine remains Kent State’s Dri Archer’s 4.26 40-yard dash, just a few ticks behind all-time Combine King Chris Johnson’s 4.23. Bo Jackson ran a 4.12 forty back in 1987, but since scouts, rather than a computer, electronically timed him, we pretend that Bo–and Deion, and Bullet Bob, and Darrell Green–never ran as fast as Johnson. Who needs a stopwatch to know that Chris Johnson couldn’t catch the guy who needed the Kingdome tunnel to put the brakes on his 91-yard Monday Night Football run? Defensive backs have yet to run in Indianapolis, so Chris Johnson’s workout record may yet fall. But Bo’s won’t. Bo knows the forty.
Our athletes underperformed and the host country overdelivered. Russophobes and red-white-and-blue wavers may not want to hear it. But let’s call it like it was rather than like we’d have scripted it. Sports is a lot like politics, in that observers, never detached, want coverage to reflect their prejudices rather than the reality. So the Olympics, the ultimate mash-up of sports and politics, necessarily exaggerates biases. We thought packs of stray dogs, lone-wolf terrorists, and microbial invaders from the discolored tap water would ruin the Sochi games. Instead, whiny Americans blaming their suits for their speedskating losses, neglecting to compete because of the terrain, and throwing a figure-skating fit after failing played the party poopers. U.S. athletes won a respectable number of medals. They just didn’t win many of them in respectable events. Is slopestyle a haircut or a sport? The Russians, on the other hand, cleaned up in the medal count. Saturday’s gutsy come-from-behind Russian victory in the biathlon relay summed up the Olympics nicely: it was more than we expected.
Dewey Beats Truman, Johnson Wins Daytona 500
Congratulations to Jimmie Johnson for winning his second straight Daytona 500. Just kidding. Who trusts the television more than television? So when Fox News and ESPNw reported, after watching Fox’s rain-delay replacement programming that consisted of the replay of last year’s Daytona 500, that Johnson had again won NASCAR’s season-opening race, they fell for a hoax of War of the Worlds proportions (if of smaller implications–the world doesn’t end, for most people at least, when Jeff Gordon doesn’t win). Johnson placed fifth–not bad–in the actual race won by Dale Earnhardt Jr. But some still believe that Johnson won. They saw it on TV, after all. Worshippers of the Idiot Box often imitate their pixelated god but never question him.
Taking the ‘N’ Out of the NFL
I once glimpsed a sign in an alley as I jogged in Phoenix in the late ’90s. It explicitly forbade drug use and prostitution in that particular alley. Were they permitted in Phoenix’s other dingy concrete gangways?
Prohibitions say a lot about practices. It’s not until a transgression gains in popularity that anyone thinks of banning it. Obviously, the proprietor of that Phoenix business stumbled upon too many used condoms and dirty needles before the thought occurred to him to post his “police take notice” warning. The idea to penalize the “N” word in the NFL on a level akin to unnecessary roughness suggests that players in the NFL, a majority-minority league, use the “N” word the way writers at Breitbart use the “the” word. Riley Cooper ignorantly used it at a concert before last season. Naturally, the Eagles receiver got penalized in the press and among the public because he employed a slur used to degrade black people even though he’s white. Will white referees look the other way, as the culture does, when young black men say the word?
“I think it’s going to be really tough to legislate this rule, to find a way to penalize everyone who uses this word,” Steelers defensive back Ryan Clark told ESPN’s Outside the Lines. “And it’s not going to be white players using it toward black players. Most of the time you hear it, it’s black players using the word.”
Alec Baldwin, Unplugged
Alec Baldwin, known for his Tourette’s-like outbursts of insanity, said something really smart in his piece at Vulture.com. I say this at the risk of alienating my employer. He lashed out at Breitbart as part of “Hate Incorporated,” after all, which seems a catchall label for all that Baldwin dislikes. In his rant against those who have derailed his career after he derailed it by his obscene verbal barrage at a photographer, the 30 Rock actor and voice of Capitol One fights back with the same ammunition he decries in others. Surely much of the elongated article reads as Baldwin venting his bitterness at being hoisted by his own petard of political correctness. But underneath all the hatred he feels for the “haters” hides a point, and it applies to celebrity athletes as much as celebrity entertainers.
CFL players suffered fines for speaking their truth after Michael Sam spoke his. Respected reporters, such as Sports Illustrated‘s Rep. Peter King (R-NY), endured charges of bigotry and homophobia after negatively evaluating Sam’s prospects in the NFL and merely providing the cloak of anonymity to NFL executives to speak truthfully at his Monday Morning Quarterback site. The media feels compelled to provide Jason Collins as much coverage as LeBron James even though he possesses Greg Kite talent. Social pressure forces us to live a lie as much as it once forced people like Michael Sam and Jason Collins to live one. We want our stars–on the screen and on the field–scripted, speaking words elites approve. We are shocked, shocked when we discover they stumble in their private lives as we do in ours and speak words we don’t project upon them. And we discover this because we don’t allow anyone to live a private life anymore and punish anyone who veers away from the approved narrative.
Baldwin speaks like a man who no longer craves, as he puts it, “audience approval.” He calls TMZ’s Harvey Levin a “cretinous barnacle,” Rachel Maddow a “phony,” MSNBC “full of s—,” and his country “preposterously judgmental.” Our impulse is to ponder the offensiveness of these comments. We should wonder if they are true. There was something pathetic in his I-support-the-right-causes/I-have-gay-friends defense, which he certainly wouldn’t have awarded much credence prior to his unpleasantness with the paparazzi in November. But amidst the self-serving argument, there lies a truth: political correctness and the Fourth Estate’s surveillance state has nudged Americans into leading less-than-authentic lives.
Harold Ramis, RIP
Harold Ramis, director of Caddyshack, the funniest sports movie of all time, passed away at 69 on Monday. He helped write Caddyshack, Stripes, Back to School, Meatballs, Animal House, Ghostbusters, Vacation, and Groundhog Day. People who make us laugh make our lives better.