Some Great Face From Cristiano Ronaldo’s Latest Goal

December 12, 2010 § 5 Comments

Real Madrid beat Zaragoza earlier today, 3-1, in a game that was really slick*. This isn’t a big deal because Zaragoza is not good at all. This game was an afterthought.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a swell free-kick goal tho. But even that will be an afterthought to all of you after you see the sheer amount of great face from the goal. Here’s Crimazing Rinaldwow before the kick.

Wow is he focused. That eyebrow needs to introduced to the dictionary as a punctuation symbol.

Then he did this.

That’s not an illusion, the ball is in the back of the net and I think Franco was still setting up to get ready to defend. Not really, it was actually that Cri just did an awesome kick, but still. Bad move, Leo Franco!

He knows it was a bad move.

I have this screen cap saved as “ZaraNOza” on my computer.

Now we get to the fun part: post-goal faces! I know if I just scored a mind-blowing goal in one of the top leagues in the world I would look just like this.

Plus, if you watch the video, he sorta does that head bob that Frank Caliendo does when he does his George W. Bush impression. But don’t think that Cris is just all about the bravura and machismo and posturing. He chill too.

Someone bottle this up and sell it, and I’ll wear it as a cologne when I’m at the beach.

Then he does the classic up-high-scrunch-fingers celebration along with a feral grin. Who hasn’t done it among us, right?

Auditions for the traveling ensemble for Lloyd Webber productions are always in fashion.

Okay, we get it C-Ro Green, you’re awesome. Two people who don’t have time for this tho are the aforementioned Leo Franco.

And Jose Mourinho. Get ready for one of the mour Mourinho-y pics in a while, guys.

There’s no tricks or manips happening here, that is the face of Real Madrid’s manager perhaps 45 seconds after a great goal by his star player. Any guess as to what he’s thinking is as good as another, but mine is he’s thinking about the novel about Bobby Fischer he’s probably always wanted to write.

And then on the replay, we get a better angle of Ronaldo keeping his Bebop-n-Rocksteady face, even when being hugged.

Or maybe he’s doing a Pepe’s-face impersonation. If that’s the case then that’s mean to say about your teammate, guy. Also, Mesut Ozil is more and more looking like the love child of Shelley Duvall and Joan Cusack.

And then, to complete the performance of great face, Ronaldo sticks the landing!

Might be more derp that hurr-durr, but I prefer to call it 2 Kool For Skool.

So that’s it for this Sunday. Here’s the video in case you need to see the context, but trust me, the pics are all you need.

*We need to bring back this adjective. Slick is really keen.

An Attempt At A Coherent Defense of Cam And Cecil Newton

December 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Earlier today I listened to Dan Levy interview Orson Swindle. Ranging from jersey sales to the great American tradition of telling one’s father to fuck off, the discussion covered a lot of college football and wandered into the controversy surrounding Cam Newton and his father and the idea of compensating a young man for his athletic prowess. Orson referenced the idea of someone giving a “coherent defense” of Cam and Cecil’s action, and suggested that such a task could be accomplished. Allow me a chance to do just that.

One of the hoariest lines in the sports world is that bemoaning the influence of filthy lucre on the amateur athlete. One of the hoariest truths of the sports world is that money and compensation have been a part of all sports from the moment that crowds started to congregate to watch the games. Whether it be a high school quarterback receiving a free Camaro or a Cuban pitcher receiving favors from the Communist government, humanity’s best athletes have been rewarded for their natural abilities. This truth may not be the prettiest one and may run counter to the platonic ideal of competition we’ve had shoveled down our throat by the movies and television, but a truth it remains. Money and favors should perhaps be forbidden, but to deny their existence is folly. As the Zen line goes, “it is only that flowers, while loved, fall; and weeds while hated, flourish.” Sometimes life is impure and icky. But we are poorly served if we choose to ignore reality for an ideal. For whatever animalistic reason, we reward those who perform athletic feats better than us.

Here’s where, if I were a more stentorian and established journalist, I would write out the Merriam-Webster definitions for “professional” and “amateur” and point out that few athletes we watch, at any level, could be considered truly amateur. I don’t think that’s necessary, however, because I believe most of us already know that these people aren’t amateurs. In fact, lots of us enjoy discussing the friendlier side of compensation, whether it be free shoes, bowl packages, or the number of beautiful women the players can bed. But travel too far outside the acceptable range of benefits and suddenly our sense of justice is rankled.

And so it seems that Cecil Newton, in seeking a six-figure compensation for his son’s services, has rankled the collective mind of the college football fan. But why should it? If one may ask, who was the victim in this so-called crime? The sense of competitive justice? If one believes that previous Heisman-quality players weren’t treated better than average or that such selfish behavior doesn’t happen every year in sports, one should probably not proffer their opinion on sports. The year that someone can identify as untainted from backroom deals and one of pure amateurism will be the first year that humanity attained perfection.

Others, such as Levy, have suggested that if we begin to openly pay players we will begin to drive the haves and the have-nots apart in an ever-widening chasm. With all apologies to Levy (a former coworker of mine at The Sporting News and whose podcast is one of the best out there and serves a daily antidote to the DERPiness of sports radio), but I would ask him and those like him: what mythical sport of evenness has he been watching? Every sport out there is an altar to inequality and especially collegiate athletics. While I might love the idea of a pluralistic arena of equal opportunity, it doesn’t explain away the fact that my alma mater Michigan is already a “have” in contrast to 98% of the schools it competes against. Do such critics actually believe that Utah St. and Duke are remotely close in their race for a basketball recruit? Forgive me if I struggle to see the difference between one school offering $100,000 to a recruit and another that dishonestly convinces a recruit of his chance at the NFL by parading around dozens of professional alumni.

If there is a victim in the Newton affair, it is the duplicitous administrators’ and NCAA officials’ lies and deceitful blather about the “code of amateurism,” a story that is laid to waste by the numbers surrounding their sports.

The numbers are as follows: 37.4 million attendees. Hundreds of millions of dollars.  College football, by most any metric, is one of the most rabidly followed sports in the world. 20 million more people attend FBS games a year than NFL games. The total attendance of college football triples the numbers of the top soccer leagues of Europe. Behind MLB (whose attendance numbers are skewed by the large amount of games), Division I-A athletics have the most attendees of any sport in the world, and it isn’t even close. And yet if you look at any of the salaries of the participants of sports comparable to the NCAA, be it the NFL, European soccer leagues, the NBA, or the NHL, only college athletics stands apart in the woefulness of their compensation. If you were to liberally estimate the current benefits conferred on NCAA athletes and peg it at $100,000 per year, that generous amount would still stand as a paragon of inequity. It is almost axiomatic to say: collegiate athletes are exploited. Coaches and athletic departments and networks are reaping millions of dollars while the players are hobbled by ahistorical and smarmy values informed by Hardy Boys books and Disney movies.

So it’s no coincidence that the loudest proponents of the status quo are those who benefit the most from its existence. As to whether the status quo is just, I would suggest the following passage. In his famous Letters from a Birmingham Jail*, Dr. King wrote:

“Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.”

And so we see in collegiate athletics a system that compels a group of people to subscribe to a set of values and behaviors that they had no part in enacting or devising. So while an individual dissent against the unjust system might be the product of less than noble motivations (I can’t and won’t speak to the Newtons’ reasons), it hardly erases the moral rightness of the act of standing against an unjust and exploitative system. So I’m left asking: who are we to criticize the Newtons for getting paper? For grabbing as much as they can? The schools, coaches, bowl committees, and networks are never asked to be patient and wait for the payday down the road, why should the athletes be different?

My attention was drawn back to one of the most iconic scenes from The Wire recently. Omar, vigilante thief of the drug dealers, is in court to testify in a murder case against one of the muscle of one of the gangs. The gang member’s attorney tries to paint Omar as an exploiting and freeloading criminal who feeds off the underbelly of society’s problems. Omar’s witty response (around 6:55)?

It’s all in the game. What’s different here in sports than in the drug trade? The boosters and ADs and anchors have found a way to make quite a few dollars off collegiate football. Is Cecil (or Cam) any more morally culpable for trying to do the same? If your only response is that one obeyed rules and the other did not, I’m afraid we’re unable to see eye-to-eye. I like to think that our rules and laws best approximate morality and justice, not the other way around.

At one point in the podcast Orson mentions that America has been founded on principles of “independent and self-sufficient” people. I’d agree. I’d also point out that, at least in the case of the Newtons (and countless other “criminals” against amateurism), it seems that their independence and self-sufficiency are being undermined by those who write laws, and who are also those who would ultimately aim to lose the most by an independent and self-sufficient body of athletes.

*I trust you, faithful reader, to discern that I am not comparing, in any way, the state of collegiate athletics and the terrible conditions of African-Americans in mid-20th century America. The rhetorical points, however, can still shed light on modern athletics.

Germany Shows You How A Real Youth Program Works

August 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

Bundesliga Talk has a post up to remind us how good Germany is at identifying and growing talent.

With players like Thomas Mueller, who walked away with the Golden Boot and Young Player of the Tournament awards, Mesut Ozil, who astounded crowds with his flair, creativity, and ability to create some thing out of nothing and Sami Khedira, who stepped up into Michael Ballack’s role and handled it with efficiency and style, you could say that Germany could be set for another golden age. What’s even more incredible, is that Bundesliga clubs are constantly churning out talented young players who could well go on to make an incredible impact on the national team in the future. While Thomas Mueller and Mesut Ozil and so many others will have shone so brightly in South Africa, a new generation is already coming through the system in Germany.

Yeah, yeah, Germany has so much talent that it’s practically giving top-league players away. We get it. That’s what you’d expect from a Bundesliga blog writ– DIEGO CONTENTO IS ELIGIBLE FOR GERMANY??? That’s just unfair. Germany is now on notice for the next 8 years as the Best Team In Europe.*

*Possible hyperbolic. But only a little if at all.

Here’s a list of a bunch of players, all German-eligible, 25 years old and younger:

  • Toni Kroos, 20, Bayern Munich
  • Felix Kroos, 18, Werder Bremen
  • Mario Gomez, 25, Bayern Munich
  • Diego Contento, 20, Bayern Munich
  • Dennis Diekmeier, 20, Hamburg
  • Jerome Boateng, 21, Manchester City
  • Holger Badstuber, 21, Bayern Munich
  • Per Mertesacker, 25, Werder Bremen
  • Sami Khedira, 23, Real Madrid
  • Mesut Ozil, 21, Real Madrid
  • Lukas Podolski, 25, Koln
  • Thomas Muller, 20, Bayern Munich

And Phillip Lahm and a few others are 26. Wow. Serious points go out to Beckenbauer, Klinsmann, and Loew for taking the time to design and the patience to install the youth system that is spitting these kinds of players out on a seemingly annual basis. If Brazil is great by an embarrassment of natural resources, Germany is great by excellence in design.

Let’s Go All The Way To A 3-5-2

August 9, 2010 § Leave a comment

Raf Crowley puts out a rousing defense of the USMNT moving away from the 4-4-2 for future World Cups. While I’m not an expert on tactics (though a bit of a nerd), couldn’t many of the same reasons Crowley pushes for a 4-5-1 be used to go another step forward to a 3-5-2?

(thanks to the BBC)

As Crowley says, we have a plethora of midfielders, especially attacking ones. I’d even say that if we started training our youth in the formation, the US’s famed fitness regimens could crank out quite a few right and left backs, the position that requires the most running, perhaps the most running of any position in any formation.

South American countries have been rocking this for decades now and it works quite well against a 4-4-2 as an overwhelming midfield advantage can keep possession and keep the ball pressing forward. The major drawbacks, at least as I can see them are

  • Do we have enough central defenders to man the back 3. This might be the strongest criticism of the formation.
  • We don’t have the coach or national ethos for such an attacking form. We’re a former British colony after all! Long bombs and chases and counter-attacks are in our blood! Bullshit. We could bring in a coach (mayhaps even the one I’d prefer) to teach our players, and in case you hadn’t noticed, we’re a nation that is vastly more of the Americas than of England. The names of Onyewu, Gomez, Edu, and Torres don’t ring out in the Drones Club.
  • It’s too much of a transition, it’s too aggressive. Yes, counterattacks can be a problem if you play this system. But is there a purer act of faith in the belief that The Best Defense Is A Good Offense? Also, I don’t quite get the dividing line: if we’re looking to transition out of the 4-4-2, is going to a 3-5-2 more drastic than a 4-3-3. All changes are created equals, it appears.

If I’m wildly off, I’d love for someone to correct me, but I don’t see a major reason why we couldn’t go the full distance to a totally new formation and philosophy.

MLS Attendance Numbers: Looking Good Boys, Looking Good.

July 27, 2010 § 1 Comment

MLS Talk’s done the legwork and put up the attendance numbers for Amurrica’s League:

Thoughts are as follows:

  • This is a sign of health and an exciting future for the league. Abstracting out the downturn in ’09 (for which I think we can give the Great Depression II credit), MLS has been growing steadily and not too rashly. I get the cries for faster success, but I’m much happier with the Tortoise than the Hare.
  • Week 17′s average attendance was 21,368. Ligue 1′s season average attendance was 21,050. That is all.
  • YTD MLS attendance average is 16,671, the NHL’s 09/10 attendance average was 16,985. And this was considered a banner year for hockey. Get with it, TV coverage and press.
  • Given trends, it’s not unreasonable to project MLS having attendance between Italy and Spain’s top leagues by 2020. Italy’s roughly 25k/game, Spain 29k/game. I realize it’s a false equivalence, that percentage-wise Spain and Italy will be far crazier and soccer more dominant. I also realize that we have an upward limit of about 22,500 as the average MLS stadium capacity. But still, that’s striking, even as a possibility.
  • MLS players are underpaid, by quite a bit. Taking averages of 16,671 and $22.50 per ticket, teams make roughly $375,00 per game. 16 home games a season makes for just over $6,000,000 a season on ticket revenues alone. The Galaxy, with the most expensive tickets and their attendance numbers comes out just under $10,000,000 off tickets alone. This is ignoring jersey sales, concessions, advertisers, broadcast rights, etc. Then we have this: average MLS salaries are about $138,000, and roughly 25 players per team come out to $3,450,000 or about 55-60% of ticket revenues. Players union: step yo game up.
  • Never change, Seattle. 36,159 average attendance. Jay-zus.

USMNT Coach Talk: Please Please Please Give Us Marcelo Bielsa

July 20, 2010 § 1 Comment

Match Fit USA has a killer post up about Jurgen Klinsmann and the USMNT. Go read it.

If I may, here’s what I gather as the main points of it:

  • Klinsmann please, but not quite yet. Klinsmann would be a great architect, provide top-down control, and generally create an efficient national system. He would want to do all of this, but…
  • US Soccer isn’t quite at a place to devise a technically proficient team. We’re on a cusp of having a steady 70 or so players in the top leagues of Europe and their concomitant training and abilities.
  • Klinsmann is relatively young and loves America. He undoubtedly is and does both of these. So we got time.

All in all, pretty sound in my book. So consider me on Team Klinsmann Starts in 2014. But that does leave us asking “Who takes the team for right now?”

There is only one choice here, fellows: Marcelo Bielsa.

Don’t know him? Hopefully not for much longer. He coached Argentina in 2002 and Chile this year. Zonal Marking, who I bow to in all expertise situations, has called the Argentinian tactically obsessive, an “innovator”, and rated him the 3rd best coach performance in South Africa.

Here’s what I know from watching a lot of the South American World Cup qualifying (no, I don’t have a life, thanks for asking):

He’s relentlessly attacking. As ZM points out, look in this clip at just how many Chileans end up about 18 yards from the end line. Hunker back and counterattack this ain’t.

I get all flustery just watching them move forward. Incidentally, it’s not a fluke- Bielsa is an old school Argentinian coach loves the 3-defender back line and 3-attacker front line. At about 2:35 into this one, peep the Chilean goal from this World Cup against Honduras:

Again, 6 or 7 players up in or around the box. Awesomesauce.

- He’s relentlessly crazy. From When Saturday Comes:

One recurrent story in the Chilean press is that he has chosen to live by himself in a few rooms at an FA training ground instead of renting a house, while his family live in Argentina. The Chilean FA pays US$1.5 million a year to cover the salaries of his coaching team and himself, a huge amount by Chilean standards. Yet Bielsa only picked up his pay for the first time in June 2009. In the meantime, he lived off bonuses paid for points won. Other quirks catch the eye: Bielsa visits a zoo in search of inspiration for coaching ideas, he refuses to own a car, and is more than willing to stop and chat with kids on the street but won’t give interviews to the press (although he does conduct long press conferences).

So much to love right there.

- He’d be a good fit here in America and I’m pretty sure he knows it. There’s really no mention of Bielsa coming here yet (hell, we haven’t even released Bradley, which, I mean, is really nice of us I guess), but there’s a mention by Max Zeger suggesting he wants a quiet place to work. This is understandable because, for those of you who don’t know and have healthy lives, Chilean soccer fans are some of the most batshit insane fans in the world.

That’s for a club team, people. *Massive hat tip to you, Chile. Bravissimo and keep showing us the way*

There’s some concern that, as US Soccer Daily put it, we don’t have the personnel for such aggressive styles, but I’m going to beg to differ. Firstly, let’s not forget the critique of Chile was that they didn’t have the personnel to hack it in South America. Second of all, Bielsa, while obsessive and crazy and nerdy, knows his personnel and would craft a formation that kept with the attacking-first mindset. We hire him and he’ll have 1,000 MLS tapes in his possession within 2 days and he’ll have watched them within a month. Finally, I can already see the 3-3-1-3 being a good place to start, put Michael Bradley center mid to be a defensive captain and Donovan at the 1 spot to create the attack. All I’m saying is it’s not preposterous.

So while we have little idea what Sunil Gulati will do, let’s try to keep some of these South American style coaches in the mix rather than simply go after a well-known to ESPN name.

Florio On Henry and Several Reasons It’s Wrong. Plus: Some Ethics

June 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Mike Florio is someone who’s done a hell of a lot for the sports blogosphere through his work, so I’m not attacking him or his logic specifically, he’s just serving as an avatar to the NFL writ large. It’s a testament to his work ethic that Florio’s now part of the NFL establishment, and he’s given one of the first responses to the Chris Henry story, so his response is the one to get the fisk.

—-

So Florio gives his take on the future from the findings on Chris Henry. I’ve transcribed a chunk of it, but just to err on the side of uber-accuracy feel free to check out the video.

A bad response to be sure, but it’s one I feel we’re going to see from a lot of the NFL corners, whether it be the former players turned analysts, NFL leadership and ownership, or anyone heavily invested with the league’s success.

1. When asked about what the Henry brain scan means for the NFL, Mike suggests that “it takes some of the focus off the NFL and pushes it to the lower levels of the sport.”

This is probably the strongest point Florio makes about the whole debacle, and even here he’s only half-right. He’s exactly right that there is culpability at the youth, high school and college levels, that Chris Henry didn’t just injure his brain during his NFL career. That part rings true: most of us know someone who’s received a concussion during a high school game.

But here’s where he’s wrong, and I’ll admit I’m honestly puzzled by Florio’s rhetoric: I don’t understand this distinction he makes between the NFL and other levels, except from the legal perspective (an arena in which Florio’s very well-versed). If we are only discussing legal liability to the NFL in the specific case of Chris Henry, it does matter that he only played a little while in the league. But if we are discussing the problem of severe brain injuries or the disquieting conclusions one reaches when pondering a 26 year-old man having the brain of someone over twice his age, such a distinction is useless.

In fact, the differentiation that Florio makes is actually more damning to the NFL, if some of the damage was caused at levels beneath the NFL, the pro league is all the more in danger. From every single draft season and from every rookie press conference is the speed and power of the NFL extolled. “The game at the pro level is a totally different game from college” is as ubiquitous as “getting ready for the big time.” So if the high school game and Big East game can fuck up a brain unto the point of committing suicide, the league with Dwight Freeneys and Brian Dawkinses should hardly leave the spotlight.

2. High school coaches are the ones who are “still” disinterested in proper brain recovery and suggesting players just “shrug it off”?

I think some ex-Pats players would like to talk to you about Bill Belichick, Mike. Yes, the NFL has been busting its ass to catch up with the science, mandating concussion breaks and pushing precautionary rules into greater prominence, but to suggest that more of the focus would be better assigned to youth football is pretty weak.

3. When asked if we could fundamentally change the game, Mike says “At a certain point football, and this sounds ridiculous, becomes foosball… It’s just not realistic, and that’s the problem. The potential fixes just aren’t realistic. … The concern is, at what point will changes to the game change the game to the point  where its no longer as attractive? And that’s the unspoken concern for a lot of folks who have a vested interest in the sport of football, like we do. It’s a concern that’s out there. At some point, the game will be changed to the worse if its being changed to protect athletes from risks they know and accept when they sign up to play. It becomes a separate issue, a little bit of a political issue: at what point do we tell these guys, “We’ll tell you what the risks are, and you’re allowed to play, but we’re not going to change the sport. And you may suffer some long term consequences, but if you want to play football this is how it is.” I think this is something that isn’t going away and it presents some very thorny issues for folks to work through…”

Here we go.

My first response to Joe Brocato (Florio’s co-host) even asking “can we change the sport?” was one of rage. As I watched him ask it, my chest felt vacuum-sealed, I had that little mini-gag-reflex you have when you’re trying to hold what feels like an angry mob of ghosts from streaming out your mouth. How could someone look at the story of Mike Webster, of a great man reduced to living in train stations, and ask “how do we preserve the sanctity of our game?”? To even ask it in such a way, a way that implies that there is some transcendent ideal of capital-f Football that not even human suffering can touch, is infuriating.

My second response was more rage. These players “know” and “accept” the risks of their profession? Bullshit. Anyone who’s taken a basic economics or game theory class knows just how prevalent incomplete information is in this world. I didn’t transcribe it, but Florio put an emphasis on “may suffer some long term consequences.” Again, bullshit. Any and every player who plays in the NFL has aches and pains long after they hang up the cleats. It beggars belief to suggest that men in excess of 225 lbs could run into each other sometimes in excess of 25-30 mph thousands of times and be no worse for the wear. I’d love for Florio to tell Chris Henry’s mom that Henry knew and accepted what he was getting into with a pro football career:

“It was a big shock when I first learned [Chris was playing football with brain damage],” Henry’s mother, Carolyn Henry Glaspy, told reporters on Monday after watching Omalu and Bailes present their findings about her son.

And now?

Glaspy sighed and said, “Some things make so much sense.”

My third response to all of this was sadness. To be sure, my anger at this kind of argument will probably never really subside too much. I’m too much of a lib-uh-rul to ever just be chill with this level of exploitation. But it is sad that someone as bright as Florio can be so attached to a sport or interest as to say that measurements to prevent men from literally beating their heads into dementia were “unrealistic”. It’s sad that someone can look at overwhelming data of a specific activity (one designed for pure entertainment!) causing people to lose their minds and choose to retreat to the Hey It’s Personal Choice defense.

Florio’s not alone in this. Read the comments of the post, there are plenty of people who simply don’t give a shit about whether the game of football is killing people. Hey, it’s America, they have that right. But I have the right to think these men and women, they who can at once pooh-pooh the threat of brain injury, cheer for big hits, and complain and bitch when these players demand millions of dollars as payment for the sport that the players are “forgetting the average fan who’d do anything to have their jobs”, that they are cretinous assholes.

To be sure, Florio isn’t going as far as those I mention above will. He recognizes this is a BFD, that it could possibly cripple the NFL’s future, permanently. Why else do you think he resorted to the personal choice defense? There’s not another one available.

So, while keeping the freedom-to-cheer in mind, I will close by asking: someone who is deliberately indifferent to the fates of the performers in front of him or her, who places his or her own pleasure in front of the very lives of said performers– how is he or she different from an attendant to the Roman Coliseum?

Where To From Here For Football?

June 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

So in light of the discovery that just playing football had brutally scrambled and scabbed up Chris Henry’s brain, people are starting to wonder: what is going to happen to football? Yesterday I refrained from speculating, but I’ll write what I’ve been telling for friends for quite a while, even before the findings: as the science proves that American football is fucking up our bodies beyond repair, it’s going to get harder and harder to ethically support the institution. Americans like their violence, but we’re not to the point of the Roman gladiators in the Coliseum (boy doesn’t that stadium sorta have an icky connotation now?).

It’s why American football is not, to use financial language, a growth stock. Firstly, for anyone who’s traveled abroad, the idea that a sport predicated on 300-lb. men and hundreds of dollars of equipment can be exported is a laughable one. Secondly, as the plight of retired players gets increased exposure, the ick factor will increase for the American fan base. Thirdly, and this is more anecdotal at the moment, but I know plenty of families that forbid their kids to play football for the safety issue. Trust me when I say that the rich kids ain’t playing nearly as much football as they are lacrosse, basketball, soccer, hockey, and tennis. (Especially here in Denver, lacrosse’s steez is strong).

So, to put it short, I strongly doubt that in 50 years football will either be 1) recognizable to the current game, 2) at the level of a sport like boxing or horseracing. The crazy-fanatic Michigan Man in me is saddened by this, but my little bleeding heart is relieved.

What Is CTE?: The Facts

June 29, 2010 § Leave a comment

So stop whatever you’re doing and go read this piece on Chris Henry and his pre-death chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The author, Adam Jacobi, is absolutely right, it’s ” just about the worst news possible for the sport of football.”

It becomes really easy with jargon or rhetoric to glaze over what some symptom or disease really is. Before long, we all forget that when we say “ALS” we are referring to a disease that renders you a mere spectator to your own decay, where your muscles become unresponsive unto the point of atrophy. And all of that happens while most-often mental function remains untouched. Fewer things strike me as being close to a living hell as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but even I lose some of that fear when I hear “ALS”.

So, in what is probably a vain effort, allow me to be painfully explicit about what exactly chronic traumatic encephalopathy is, to list out what it is and what it does to the body. It won’t be easy to keep thinking about this every time a Sportscenter anchor says “CTE”, just as it isn’t easy to remember that a true “WMD” is a terrifying tool of violence. But, to the players that we all have so pushed into the arena, we owe nothing less.

Let’s start with this photo:

1. First things first: those brown scratches? Dead brain-cell connections. More specifically, neuritic threads, the links between brain cells. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you, there appear to be countless numbers of these small dead cell parts in Chris Henry’s brain, in comparison to the pristine quality of the average brain above it.

2. The bigger dark spots in Henry’s brain? Those are Tau protein tangles. Tau proteins (and I’ll be the first to admit the analogy isn’t perfect), roughly put, are like ropes that keep lines of people moving. Tau proteins, in proper use, stabilize connections in the cell’s microtubules. At some point, however, Tau proteins can begin to create tangled tubes and filaments, which scientist think is the first step towards tauopathic diseases like Alzheimer’s and CTE. It isn’t quite certain how the violence a brain undergoes during football causes the hyperphosphorylation of Tau proteins to cause the tangles, but the correlation is strong. Again, note the difference between the two slides: the normal brain has clean cellular boundaries while you can see the stained tangles in Henry’s brain. And also again, this is a man who is 26 years old and has never had a known concussion.

3. CTE has been around quite a while under another name: pugilistic dementia. You know, the disease that rendered Muhammad Ali, one of the most eloquent athletes in history into a pottering near-mute and handicapped man? Setting aside the pains and non-brain injuries of a Gale Sayers, for every Larry Holmes or Ali or Quarry brother in boxing history, I’d say that you could conservatively put 2-4 retired NFL players in equally poor conditions. [UPDATE: Apparently most doctors put roughly 15-20% of all boxers suffer from pugilistic dementia, which if we halved (just to be super conservative) would put the same levels in the NFL at 127 to 170 players from just one season]

4. Other problems caused by the traumatic encephalopathy include:

  • frontotemporal dementia – no known cure, average survival is 7 years
  • progressive supranuclear palsy – no known cure, average survival is 7 years. This was the disease actor Dudley Moore contracted.
  • corticobasal degeneration – no known cure, average survival is 8 years
  • Pick’s disease – no known cure

5. Previous to Chris Henry, concussions were thought to be the cause. Now, all that is apparently required to bring about premature brain decay is the standard levels of violence that are faced by every player from high school on up.

Another commonality with those diseases I mention above in #4? The earliest one typically gets any of those is late 40′s early 50′s, and most commonly these are diseases that afflict people in their 60′s. Chris Henry was 26.

Furthermore, they all have symptoms in common, namely dementia and depression. Henry’s rumored last words were “if you take off, I’m going to jump off the truck and kill myself.”

Chris Benoit, the pro wrestler who killed his wife and 7 year old son before killing himself, had according to doctors “[a] brain [that]was so severely damaged it resembled the brain of an 85-year-old Alzheimer’s patient.” Benoit was 40 years old. He had CTE.

I’m not crazy about everything Bill Simmons writes, but he was channeling some truth when in his review of The Wrestler he wrote:

Of course, The Wrestler resonates for a more sinister reason, too. Pro wrestling chews up and spits out its athletes with grueling schedules, brutal physical punishment and a tacit understanding that performance enhancers are okay—as are greenies, sleeping pills and painkillers. These guys destroy their bodies, then their hearts give out and they die. Google the phrase “dead wrestlers,” and your computer will start to smoke like an overtaxed car engine.

The mainstream media don’t care because the general public doesn’t care. After all, it’s a fake sport with scripted endings. Why should it matter to us when wrestlers are found dead in their beds or seen limping around on two fake hips? Why should it matter to us that there’s a list of modern wrestlers who died before the age of 50—many of them famous—and that the list is more than 70 names long? Hey, there’s always another wave of guys on the way. Always. They’ll do whatever it takes to get ahead, just like the last generation did.

The ghosts of Mike Webster, Andre Waters, Chris Henry, Terry Long are out there. But who needs to remember them when we have Ray Lewis and Hines Ward and Patrick Willis to entertain us today?

I’ll be honest: this report, these findings, they suck. It sucks that I’ve probably forever lost my ability to cheer wildly for my Michigan Wolverines, that I’m always going to beat myself up for letting out a “Wooooo!” and high-fiving friends when a wide receiver got laid out across the middle. Even in the past two years, the number of times I’ve rhapsodized about Eric Berry when it’s pretty easy to see that he’s functionally killing himself for my entertainment is damn embarrassing.

I wish to hell that I’d never learned these things, but I wish even more that we had known these facts decades ago. Maybe we could have saved a life, which is worth way more than any fan’s pleasure.

Ghana: The Unfair Viewing Guide And Preview And Predictions

June 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

Viewer’s Guide To U.S.-Ghana. Here’s ZM’s more technical stuff that you should use to further familiarize yourself with the enemy.

General Notes

  • It’s not Ghanans, or Ghanains. It’s Ghanaians. Yeesh, what a mouthful.
  • Their Olympic team’s nickname is “The Black Meteors” which is slightly worse, IMO, than “The Black Stars”
  • A meteor, though, does better to describe Ghana’s improvement and rise up the rankings. As recently as 2004, they were ranked by ELO as the 97th team (!) and now are a mid-20′s team. It’s all been due to single generation of Ghanan–err Ghanaians, all around 26-30 years of age, who are of a European league-quality.
  • They have two players named John Mensah. They aren’t related.
  • Ghana is the 53rd least failed state in the world, second best in Africa. Way to go, Ghana!
  • The Larabanga Mosque in Ghana is a world treasure, one of the oldest buildings still standing in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The list of notable people from Ghana includes Kofi Annan, Freddy Adu, Nazr Mohammed, and Kwame Nkrumah. Bob Bradley knew things would turn out the way they did, so that’s why he left Freddy off the USMNT. Not because he’s a bust or anything like that.

Ghana Will Win If…

  • Their goalkeeper Richard Kingson forgets that he’s Richard Kingson and plays like someone else. He’s a backup goalie for Wigan Athletic. I feel that should be QED, in and of itself. He might be the worst goalie to make it through to the final 16. I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head who’s markedly poorer than Kingson.
  • Michael Essien turns into Bloodscream or Wolverine and regenerates a healthy ACL. The man who provided direction and motivation to his teammates, Essien was/is Ghana’s only true star, and him being gone turns Ghana’s midfield from a bramble of stabby-blades into just a stray hypodermic needle or two in a McDonalds’ ballpit. The threat they present on the offensive side of the ball is next to nil. Ghana will hope to win this game 1-0 or in a shootout.
  • One of their players on either end of the field differentiates himself. I might be persuaded into agreeing that John Mensah is a solid defender, but the hell I’ll agree that Ghana’s back four is solid. I might be convinced that Asamoah Gyan has had moments of offensive competence, but the hell I’ll admit Ghana’s offense has teeth. Their midfield is stocked full of talent, but all it’s seemed to do is slow down the middle of the field and keep things backing-and-forthing outside the boxes. But this is single-elimination, y’all: anything can happen, and if someone like a Boateng or Gyan gets hot…
  • If the U.S. allows their “Thanks For Playing With Us” Welcoming Early Goal. They almost let it happen again against Algeria (LOVE U CROSSBAR), and against Ghana it would be a big blow. I imagine Ghana could sit on a lead for quite a while, not providing the attack against which the U.S.’s counter-attack depends.
  • If Jay DeMerit plays more than–, no y’know what? Jay can stay. I’m really not worried about Ghana’s attack, so he can chill. He did okay against Algeria, who also had no attack worth mentioning. Against Uruguay with Forlan and Suarez, however, he’ll need to get the hell out.

My Woulda-Coulda-Shoulda Starting XI Which Will Be Sure To Not Happen

—————————Howard—————————-

CherundoloDeMeritOnyewuBocanegra

——————-Edu————-Bradley——————

——-Donovan————————–Dempsey——-

—————Buddle—————Altidore————–

It’d be sorta kinda 4-2-2-2 to a more flexible 4-2-3-1 with Jozy moving forward and Buddle melding with the Donovan and Dempsey line. I’d steer clear of Torres or Gomez to start as they’re too small to handle Ghana’s mids.

Prediction

United States 2, Ghana 0

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