Live, from New York, it’s the Sports Hangover. I’ll be hitting the Meadowlands, Madison Square Garden, and the Prudential Center for NFL and UFC events this week. That’s my reward for suffering through the weirdest weekend of the sports year, when the NFL gives you a taste of what life is like without it and Major League Baseball does absolutely nothing to take away the pain.
A more subdued Richard Sherman stood before cameras on Sunday. It’s clear he likes being inside the idiot box. It’s not clear that he knows how he appears on it. “I think you’re always cognizant of it as a football player,” Sherman explained regarding providing locker room fodder for the opposition, “especially in today’s world where everybody’s looking for a story, everybody’s trying to get their name in a paper. Everybody’s looking to get the quickest headline they can. Everybody else is just going to jump on. I think everyone’s cognizant of it, and everyone’s aware of what could happen if they gave potential sound bites, but it’s all going to come down to who plays the best football, so none of that is going to be relevant.” Psychologists call this projection.
Jumping the Frozen Shark
The Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs selling out the Big House may have been the coolest moment of the young NHL season. Around the time that Paul Stanley, alongside a fake Catman and Space Ace, sang “You keep on shoutin, you keep on shoutin” at Chavez Ravine Saturday night, the NHL’s Stadium Series jumped the frozen shark. An outdoor hockey game in Southern California, like a Super Bowl in northern New Jersey, surely has gimmick appeal. But the novelty wears off when the spectacle ceases to appear out of the ordinary. With Yankee Stadium hosting two NHL games this week, and other outdoor contests scheduled for Chicago and Vancouver, the league might want to think long and hard about milking this cash cow to death.
Football, Elvis of Sports
The annual Harris poll gauging the popularity of various sports again places football in the lead position. Nearly half of Americans–46 percent–name college or professional football their favorite sport. This is the thirtieth straight year in which Americans named professional football as their favorite sport in the annual poll. Basketball, after peaking at 13 percent during the Jordan era, returned to 6 percent this year just where it was in 1985. Hockey has more than doubled in popularity, moving from 2 percent in ’85 to 5 percent today.
The takeaway for most this year, as it has been in recent years, remains the widening gap between football and baseball. In the poll’s first year, professional football beat baseball by just one percent. That chasm has since widened to 21 percent–32 percent if you include the college game with the professional one. Whether MLB never recovered from the 1994 strike, the game’s pace increasingly clashes with society’s, or the steroids scandals have harmed the sport, reasons abound for why America’s pastime has become a thing of America’s past times.
A greater curiosity is the relatively static interest in soccer. In 1985, three percent of respondents named soccer their favorite sport to watch. Twenty-nine-years later, just two percent do. This following an explosion in participation in the sport amongst kids puzzles. Americans clearly like to play the game. But despite the best efforts of the sport’s many evangelists, Americans haven’t become Europeans in regards to watching it.
Manny Pacquiao returns to Las Vegas, after complaints about the U.S. tax code sent him to the more tax-friendly Macau (a dominion of Communist China!) for his last fight. In the April 12 Manny Pacquiao-Tim Bradley bout, fans get to see in one fight all that’s wrong with boxing. Firstly, in 2012, Bradley bested Pacquiao on the score cards in one of the most controversial decisions in boxing history. Overlooking “effective aggression” in judging fights remains a reason why so many judge boxing as not worth watching. Secondly, this isn’t the fight anyone wants to see. It’s probably past its sell-by-date at this point, but Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao has been the fight the public has demanded for nearly a decade. Their ships-passing-in-the-night routine is akin to if the Denver Broncos decided to play Jacksonville instead of Seattle this weekend. And finally, both of these guys should be thinking about retiring rather than fighting. Pacquiao took a vicious knockout punch from Juan Manuel Marquez a little over a year ago. Bradley complained of slurred speech for two months after his more recent bout with Ruslan Provodnikov. Pacquiao remains one of the most marketable boxers. But boxing doesn’t remain very marketable.
Difference Between New York and New Jersey?
One of the many reasons boxing suffers its fringe status is the success of mixed-martial arts. I’ll be heading off to the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey to catch the action Octagonside at UFC 169 on Saturday night. New Jersey–the site of the Super Bowl no matter what the NFL tells you–allows MMA. New York doesn’t. In other words, in one state you get thrown in jail for kicking someone in the head and in the other you get paid lots of money for doing so. Why do people watch what John McCain once dubbed “human cockfighting”? Donald Cerrone’s knockout kick from Saturday’s free card on Fox provides a graphic answer.
Playing Through Pain
An anonymous survey asked NFL players whether they would compete in the Super Bowl with a concussion. NFL Nation found that 85 percent of the 320 players polled would play rather than sit. The survey illustrates the folly of blaming yesteryear’s coaches, teams, and leagues for players competing with head injuries. It’s not that they didn’t know the science then. It’s that we don’t understand the nature of athletes now. Competitors compete.
Concussions, unlike a broken leg or bloody arm gash, don’t announce themselves loudly. The hits that cause concussions don’t generally make the highlight reel. So, even knowing who to examine proves a challenge for trainers and medical personnel. Even today, when the media din on concussions can be deafening, almost nine in ten players wouldn’t cooperate with sideline experts and medical protocols if it meant their removal from the biggest game of their lives.
If we can count on 85 percent of NFL players to make the wrong health decision in their right mind, what might the figure be when these players’ brains have just been jarred? That’s the mentality of a competitor, which in this rare instance works against rather than for him. It’s hard to un-instill a no-quit attitude in an athlete. When ESPN contacted London Fletcher, who never missed a game at linebacker in sixteen seasons, about the survey he asked, “Did 100 percent say yes?”
The Yankee Way
Little known fact: the New York Yankees did not lead the majors in payroll last season. For the first time since the 1998 season (Baltimore Orioles), a team other than the Bronx Bombers (Los Angeles Dodgers) spent more in player salaries. So, Sons of Steinbrenner spending $438 million on four contracts–Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Masahiro Tanaka–shouldn’t have shocked. If Tanaka’s 24-0 record in Japan doesn’t convince you that he’s a winner, his translated words should: “I don’t speak English, so I’ll just have to win the trust and confidence of the fans with my performance on the field.” A winning attitude says the same thing in every language.
What Do Pistol Pete, the Iceman, and Melo Have in Common?
Carmelo Anthony scored about four points for every Knicks’ win on Friday night. Only thirteen other players in the history of the National Basketball Association have scored more points in a game than Carmelo Anthony dropped on the Charlotte Bobcats. And each of those players not named Kobe Bryant dropped more than 62 in a year that began “nineteen something something.” Save for David Thomson, every one of those thirteen players is, or will be, in the Basketball Hall of Fame. LeBron James hasn’t dropped 62. Neither has Kevin Durant.
Dallas Is a Woman Who Will Walk on You When Your Down
Justin Bieber started his weekend–in a put-a-little-weekend-in-your-week way–in the clink. He ended it in Panama with his hot model girlfriend. Somewhere in between an employee of the Dallas Stars placed the troubled singer’s image on the Jumbotron at American Airlines Center above the caption: Maple Leafs Fan. Scenes of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford playing Chris Farley also appeared. Someone in Dallas has a sense of humor.