Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Heading north of the border for Team No. 58

See if you can all remember back to the heady days of early 2010. It was a wild time to be sure. Barack Obama was the first black President of the United States, we were about to see a franchise win the Super Bowl for the first time in its 40-plus year history, the Middle East and Persian Gulf were in turmoil and the Giants and Mets both missed the playoffs.

It was a different world.

It was around then that I started this here newfangled sportsing blog, which I've found to be a fun outlet though I sometimes wish I had spent the last four years perfecting other, more productive plans for my life as others have passed me by with their astounding achievements. Still, this experience has been a not-so-awful use of my time since I wrote the first entry in this space more than four years ago. However, if you've been reading this blog from the start -- and if you're a person with actual responsibilities I'd like to hope you haven't -- this was, initially, supposed to serve a very specific purpose.

That purpose was to catalog and track my progress as my set forth on the stupifying mission of seeing 122 different major league sports teams play in their home venues. So far I've done pretty well, seeing 27 new teams in the 49 months since I've started writing about it here, but I've also come to the realization that a sports-related trip once every three months doesn't exactly give you enough regular content to build and sustain a readership. And so, as a result, I've diverged, diversifying my portfolio and the various topics on here to include not just my travels, but the analytical, the quirky, the sentimental and the just plain bizarre.

Really, I have no explanation for my theory that Super Bowl XLVIII was a preamble to an impending corporate culture war between China and the NFL with the prize being total global domination. None.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

I want a lot of things in life. I'm not sure I want this.

I have watched a lot of sporting events in my life, which I'm pretty sure surprises none of you, and many of them can be easily recalled either for reasons of extreme triumph or brutal heartbreak. My love for the Giants, Mets, Devils, Knicks and Northwestern leave little to surprise as far as which sporting events stick out firmly in my cortex, but it might surprise some of you that of all the games I've watched in my life, one of the most painful and one that has stuck with me the most, just might be the men's ice hockey gold medal game from the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Seem like an odd choice? Perhaps it is, but follow me here. I love hockey, and despite my tendencies to snark and complain about my government and those who follow the blindest levels of American jingoism, I love my country, too. So naturally, watching the U.S. men's hockey team win the highest honor of the sport on the international level is one thing I sorely want to see and which no one has seen in 34 years, but the more important aspect is that given the randomness of the short Olympic tournament and the fact that the tournament only happens once every four years. This means there are only so many chances to bring home the gold when major hockey nations like Russia, Finland, Sweden, the Czech Republic and, uh, those guys to the north are also gunning for gold.

Canada, for its part, is a perfectly lovely place if I remember it correctly. Of course, I haven't actually been there in nine years so that's hard for me to verify, though  am going there next week (more on that next week), but they all seem pretty nice. Except for when they get in the way. Given what I do for a living, I deal with more than my fair share of Canadians, and I've heard more than one of them get all giggly when they talk about the gold medal they won when Sidney Crosby managed to slip the puck past Ryan Miller in overtime four years ago.

My memories aren't so bright.

And so, as the U.S. looks to finally recapture gold four years later, and has looked by far like the best damn team in Sochi so far, why am I so nervous to see those pesky Canadians standing between America and a shot at gold on Sunday?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Michael Sam is good at football. He'll be just fine.

I was talking with a friend of mine yesterday morning who covers the NFL for ESPN.com when they abruptly curtailed one of our daily conversations with, "I have to go to my top secret meeting now!"

"What's that?" I asked.
"I can't tell you. It's a secret assignment. If I could tell you it would be a nonsecret assignment."
"I don't know, but I've been sworn to secrecy. You might know by the end of the day."
"Oh, so it's like big news that will be on ESPN?"
"Yes. And everywhere else."

This had all escaped my mind and I headed off to work for eight hours and then came home to settle in for a poker game in which I lost $24, which qualifies as a win for me most of the time. A few hours into the game, a friend checked their phone and said, "Um, I think an NFL player just came out." As it turned out, this was not, exactly the case, though Mizzouri defensive end Michael Sam is likely to be the first NFL player to have done that after he is drafted this April, but upon hearing it, the dots all connected in my head and my first thought was, "Oh wow, so that's what they were working on."

My second thought: "He could be a pretty good NFL linebacker. The Giants could use that."

Amazingly, the concern over whether or not Sam will be readily accepted by his NFL peers in the locker room or if he'll have to deal with the stupidity and bigotry the American public is heir to was significantly further down the list, and in a world where Russia seems to be on the defensive for discriminatory laws against homosexuals while it tries to showcase itself to the world during the Winter Olympics, perhaps that's telling.

Michael Sam will be fine. He may or may not end up being a good NFL player, but it seems reasonable to assume that the fact that he is sexually attracted to men rather than women will not be the reason he ends up eventually not playing in the NFL when his career ends. While the reaction has been almost universally positive, there is definitely that stupid vein of thought (and as a thinking man who played football for nine years and knows the NFL exceedingly well, believe it me it is, in fact, utterly stupid) that the NFL is just not ready for the increase in media attention or potential locker room dischord this might cause right now (But we'll be just fine in a decade when no one who currently works in the League is there) because this is a "man's game" built on the artifice of faux masculinity and a facade of manly bravado. Or perhaps more disconcerting, there is the torrent of GMs insisting this will hurt Sam's draft stock even though the GM speaking in question is, in fact, not the bigoted one.

Hogwash.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sochi is FABULOUS

You guys, the Winter Olympics are officially underway in Sochi, Russia. As you all might remember from four years ago, I'm a big fan of the Winter Games, with particular affection for some obscure sports like curling and short track speed skating, though there is one sport, in particular, that gets my bull running when it comes to the quadrennial showdown. It shouldn't be particularly surprising which.

But the amazing thing as I get amped up to see Team USA maybe take a run at its third ever hockey gold medal is that the Olympics, like they always are, are going to be a political horse and pony show. Russia's Vladimir Putin is doing his best Stalin impression these days as he basically brings the old Soviet security artifice back to life. As much of the world comes to terms with the games' controversial nature, the allegations that the games were bought, the cost overruns, the international community's tacit approval of Gazprom by holding the games there without protest, the human rights violations in Russia, the shoddy hotels that $51 billion buys, murdering stray dogs, there is one thing I am noticing about the next 16 daays of competition.

These Winter Olympics are going to be super gay.

Seriously. Of all the various potential controversies you could pick to cloud the Sochi Games, none seems to be getting more media attention in the United States than Russia's persecution of homosexuals, spearheaded by the cueball in charge himself. As a result there is almost certain to be a torrent of protests far and wide, although probably not from anyone actually near the Olympic Village by design.