The Sports Hangover recovers from the NFL Draft, a weekend of NBA and NHL playoff action, and a fight of the year in the UFC.
What would Kenny Powers do? If Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams follows this guide to life, he can’t be blamed. Williams, John Rocker, and other former major-league relievers allegedly provided the inspiration to Eastbound & Down‘s Kenny Powers. I don’t know if Williams ever showed up to a junior high dance on ecstasy or stole his dead friend’s monster truck. I do know that he cursed out the umpire of his kid’s little league game, calling him a “motherf—er” this Mother’s Day weekend. Life imitates art that imitates life. WWKPD?
The NFL Draft didn’t take place on television before the 1980s. On Thursday night, the NFL’s 79th annual Player Selection Meeting grabbed a rating better than the combined numbers of two NHL playoff games and two NBA playoff games. The draft drawing monster ratings not only would shock time travelers from the recent past. No running backs taken until midway through the second round, and no Texas Longhorns taken at all, would surely startle, too.
I liked what the Raiders did by picking Khalil Mack and Derek Carr early. They got better. The attention on the Rams stems from the story behind their seventh-round pick Michael Sam, taken where Breitbart Sports indicated he would be and where I said he would be–“late-round pick”–on CNN a few months back. But by getting bigger and better in the trenches with Aaron Donald on defense and Greg Robinson on offense they made the best division in football even better. The Bills picked up an explosive impact player in Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. But they gave up their first-round pick next year to move up five sports to land him. And who’s going to throw him the ball?
The Patriots made a statement pick in selecting Jimmy Garoppolo in the second round. They had needs at tight end, safety, receiver, and on the defensive line. But they went with a quarterback who broke Tony Romo’s passing records at Eastern Illinois. Teams are on the clock on draft day. But players–Tom Brady turns 37 before season’s start–are too.
Fight of the Year
The Matt Brown-Erick Silva Saturday night slugfest wasn’t the best MMA fight I’ve ever watched. It was the best MMA fight I’ve watched this year. It contained so many elements of an exciting scrap: momentum shifts, the crowd rallying the hometown fighter, the combatants fighting through unbelievable shots, both mixed-martial artists appearing on the verge of defeat, and the underdog ultimately prevailing. Finishes sometimes make fights. The fight made this finish, a fait accompli by the time Herb Dean called it. Brown runs his winning streak to seven fights. When does he get a title shot against Johny Hendricks?
Internet Troll v. Heavyweight KO Artist
Did you ever want to knock some sense into an internet troll? Deontay Wilder, an undefeated boxer with 31 KOs in 31 fights, got to do just that last week. Despite impressive torque generated by Wilder’s 6’7” frame, the victim of the violent barrage says a “lucky punch” derailed his attempt to defeat Wilder in a non-sanctioned inter-weight match held on the floor of a Los Angeles boxing gym. Charlie Zelenoff, an Andy Kaufmann-like character who hectors boxers with unwelcome phone calls, tweets, and emails, tells TMZ Sports: “I was caught off-guard. He just got lucky.”
Wilder was caught off guard by Zelenoff calling him a “bum,” a “punk,” a “piece of s—,” and other insults. So, after making his foe sign a waiver, Wilder enthusiastically agreed to fight him in a gym. It didn’t go well for Mr. Zelenoff, who makes up for in bravery what he lacks in civility. Wilder faces Berman Stiverne, who defeated Chris Arreola on Saturday night, for the WBC belt. He calls that an “easy fight.” What makes the American heavyweight so exciting is that he makes for not an “easy fight” for Wladimir Klitschko, who has experienced too many of those since his battles with Sam Peter and Lamon Brewster about a decade ago.
Wilder brings fans full circle. They used to clamor for a “great white hope.” Remember Gerry Cooney? Now they lament black American athletes eschewing boxing for basketball and football. Deontay Wilder is the Great Black Hope for American fight fans seeking to bring the most prestigious prize in sports (at least it used to be) back to the states.
“Somebody spit at PK Subban from the Bruins bench,” the Toronto Sun‘s Steve Simmons tweeted. “That is disgraceful.” When fellow Twittericans pointed out that nobody spit on Subban–Shawn Thornton doused him with his water bottle as he passed close to the Bruins bench–Simmons dug in: “Water bottle–spit–doesn’t matter. Disgraceful disrespectful act from Bruins bench. Especially considering the history.”
The history that Simmons didn’t consider includes Anaheim’s Corey Perry squirting Los Angeles’s Jeff Carter in the very same round of the playoffs. Simmons, and the NHL fine collectors, not didn’t notice then. The NHL fined Thornton for his kindergarten move of spraying Subban, who had endured racist tweets after scoring the winning goal against the Bruins earlier in the series. On Sunday, Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist doused the league’s marquee player, Sidney Crosby, with water. Given that the NHL set the precedent in fining Thornton, they force themselves to do the same to Lundqvist. This isn’t the worst thing in the world. Grown men shouldn’t pour water on one another (or punch each other in the face on skates for that matter). But it demonstrates that when we see everything through a racial lens, as certainly many watching the Thornton-Subban incident did, we establish precedents that fairness, but not common sense, compel us to respect.
Reds reliever Aroldis Chapman taking a batted ball off the face in spring training frightened terribly. Aroldis Chapman returning to the majors by striking out the side and reaching 102 on the radar gun on Sunday should scare opposing hitters. Fastball.com lists Chapman’s 105 mph pitch last season as the third fastest, behind Nolan Ryan (108) and Bob Feller (106), on record. The technology has changed, so calibrating those clocks appears as a fool’s errand. So, too, does standing in the batter’s box against Chapman. I’d rather take a punch from Deontay Wilder than high heat from Chapman.
You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
What if, instead of the Dolphins fining Don Jones and sending him to sensitivity training for tweeting “horrible” in response to Michael Sam smearing cake on his boyfriend’s face and kissing him on national television, the Rams had fined and ordered “educational training” for their seventh-round draft pick? Would everyone applauding the Dolphins judge it within the Rams’ rights to take such draconian actions? There’s no principle at work in fining Don Jones, only power. I’d like to live in a country in which Michael Sam can kiss his boyfriend, and Don Jones can express his disapproval, without remunerative repercussions. I’d like to live in America.