The U.S. makes it to the knockout round in Brazil, Americans get knocked out at Wimbledon, and the national pastime returns to normalcy.
The United States plays in the most important soccer game in the nation’s history today. And with a win, the U.S. team increases the imprint of the sport in an American consciousness that has consciously wiped away any trace of soccer in favor of football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. All kids play soccer. Few adults watch it. It’s on the U.S. team’s shoulders whether they make a difference in regard to viewer indifference. Garnering BCS national title game numbers for their exciting clash with Portugal, the U.S. team now works, whether knowingly or not, to beat Belgium and to conquer America for soccer. Enthusiasm is contagious. The more Americans watch, the greater likelihood they will catch it. Major League Soccer’s attendance spiked the seasons following the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. It will be interesting to see if the pattern holds or if soccer remains in its holding pattern as a spectator sport. The mere weight of nations lay on the shoulders of other players. A whole sport’s future weighs on the shoulders of the Americans.
Show LeBron the Money!
Miami’s Big Three opted out of their contracts. That doesn’t mean they’ll opt out of Miami. But news from ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that LeBron wants the maximum NBA salary–$20.7 million for a veteran of his standing–from potential suitors suggests that he wants to be paid in cash more than in rings. This isn’t selfish. It’s fair. James plays as the best basketball player of his generation. Has he ever been paid like it? A rather jarring fact heard on ESPN Monday: LeBron James has never been the single highest paid player on any team he’s played for in his eleven seasons in the Association. He’s shared fattest wallet status with a teammate. But he’s never been alone on top as he stands alone atop the NBA. Pay the man. Great players will pay to play alongside him.
No-Hitters Close Curtain on Steroid Era
Tim Lincecum’s second no-hitter against the San Diego Padres in less than a calendar year doesn’t shock. Not only do the Padres post the fewest runs in the majors this season, but the majors post fewer runs than in any season since 1992. In 2000, when hitters crushed pitchers’ hopes of no-hitters, teams averaged more than five runs a game. This season, teams average about a run less at 4.14 per game. And the Padres pull down that average by pushing 2.95 runners past the plate every game. In 2000, when runs peaked in the steroid era, the Philadelphia Phillies notched the league low at 4.37 runs per game. That’s substantially higher than the league average fourteen years later. Baseball remains the same game. But the competitors appear less like video game characters and more like human beings. Drug testing and serious suspensions will have that effect on players.
B.J. Penn debuted in the UFC a few months after the Fertitta brothers and Dana White assumed control of the promotion in 2001. In the thirteen years since, the promotion exploded in popularity because of The Ultimate Fighter reality show, mainstreaming through legalization in every state but one, and a network contract with Fox. Brock Lesnar retired, Georges St. Pierre took a break, and Anderson Silva endured a really bad break. But B.J. Penn remains in the octagon.
So does his competitive fire. “Of course, there’s a lot of things I miss,” the former lightweight and welterweight champion reminisces of the promotion’s early days. “Before you knew every single guy on the card. It was such a small knit group.” But now there’s more attention, dollars, and competition. That final change may appeal to Penn most.
The flexible fighter who has taken on heavyweights and featherweights and pretty much everyone in between, clashes with Frankie Edgar again this weekend in a post-UFC 175 match on Fox Sports 1 on Sunday night. The third fight in the trilogy signifies Penn’s best and worst attribute. “I don’t know about ‘fixated,'” Penn responded to a question about his pursuit of a fighter he has already lost to twice on Monday’s UFC conference call. “I believe everybody out there would want another shot at somebody who beat them.”
Penn calls it “human nature.” Observers might see it more as B.J. Penn’s nature. Like Ahab, he chases white whales. He repeatedly sought rematches with Georges St. Pierre after the larger, stronger man soundly defeated him. Oddsmakers peg him as a 3-1 underdog against Edgar. Why take this fight? For the same reason he fought a heavyweight Lyoto Machida and a peak Georges St. Pierre. B.J. Penn, even at 35, craves a challenge.
The Williams sisters have dominated Wimbledon for much of the last decade. American men have been shut out from winning a singles championship since 2000. “There are no more American players left in the singles draw at Wimbledon,” Breitbart’s Mary Chastain reported from London yesterday. “Nineteenth seed Feliciano Lopez defeated ninth seed John Isner.” While Americans may lament the fall of their fellow countrymen, viewers enthralled by familiarity will celebrate the so-called Big Four– Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Roger Federer–remain alive at the time of writing.
The Trot Is Slowing But the Shots Keep Going
David Ortiz failed to call his shot by predicting a home run in his next at bat against Masahiro Tanaka on Saturday. But the following day, he jacked a massive shot to right field in Yankee Stadium that served as an exclamation point on the 450 homers he has launched in his career. His 19 jacks place him in fifth for the American League home run race. Should Big Papi grab the top spot in homers by season’s end he will exceed in age the unheralded Darrell Evans (1985) and the quite heralded Barry Bonds (2001) when they lead the American and National Leagues in long balls. It’s unlikely. But so is a big body transcending the inevitable big breakdown by hitting big shots at such a big age.