Category Archives: Football

Words Fail

There was something that bugged me about coverage of the Penn State horror thus far, other than the nauseating, rage-inducing details, of course. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until I read David Roth’s post at The Classical about the whole dismal thing. This line, in particular, stuck with me:

Further down the line there will be assessments of how the fallout from “the scandal” – the same word used to describe Ohio State players swapping jerseys for tattoos is already being used to describe the horrors Sandusky is alleged to have forced upon needy kids for a decade and a half – will impact Penn State’s program.

This helped me realize that it’s this use of the word scandal that so bothered me. It is a word that is grossly inadequate to describing what happened. The fact that so many people covering the case use it anyway it is indicative of what the news has become, and how ill equipped it is to deal with a story like this.

The word scandal is the first one out of the toolbox because that is what powers The News: salacious coverage of sexual misconduct, be it by a celebrity or a Congressman. It is the one thing that can still guarantee people will tune in/read. A few days ago, I actually heard a local radio station refer to the Penn State story as a “sex scandal” (!), which is so off the mark it’s not even in the same continent as its target.

In the same way that “controversy” = “any topic on which people can disagree,” “scandal” = “something juicy.” It is the same lazy impulse that, for the last 30+ years, has named any government misdeed “_____Gate,” thus lowering one of the most egregious and vile abuses of presidential power in our nation’s history to the same level as parking ticket payoffs and other petty offenses. That’s why you will hear people routinely say, “Nixon just got caught.” Which is true, except we no longer have the perspective to realize the true evil of what he was caught doing.

The biggest problem with using the word scandal is that, as Roth points out, it equates what happened at Penn State with the piddling violations that the NCAA arbitrarily punishes from time to time to keep up its cheap facade of amateurism (a sham that applies solely to its uncompensated players, not to any of the coaches or schools and certainly not to the NCAA itself). It should be obvious to any rational human being that Sandusky’s crimes far exceed any “wrongdoing” that, for instance, Reggie Bush committed years ago while at USC. But by using the word scandal, you’re essentially saying these two things are equal.

I believe this is why we saw morons “rallying” for Joe Paterno last night. They don’t believe he is someone who, at best, did the absolute legal minimum in a situation that called for far more. They see him as a victim, someone who needs support to get through this tough time. And I can’t help but feel that using the catch-all word scandal for this monstrosity is partly responsible for such hamfisted, misguided reactions. If only people had rallied on behalf of abused children. If only Paterno had.

Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky is a scandal. Herman Cain getting grabby is a scandal. John Edwards cheating on his dying wife is scandal. Congressmen frequenting male prostitutes is a scandal. Penn State is something else altogether. Calling it a scandal says you regard it in the same light as those other things. Something to snicker at. Late night joke fodder. And all because someone in a newsroom can’t be bothered to use a more appropriate word.

You may not think this is important, but it is, vitally so. Language still means something. The words we choose mean something. That may not seem true in the age of texting and Internet shorthand, but it really is. The absolute bare minimum that can be done for the victims of Penn State–and Lord knows precious little else has been done on their behalf–is to discuss what happened to them with a proper vocabulary, not with the impoverished thesaurus of the 24-hour news cycle.

Do the Fox Sports Robot!

Don’t you guys love Cleatus? You know, Cleatus, Fox NLF Sunday’s lovable robot mascot? Whatta ya mean you didn’t know he had a name? He was named by the winner of a fan contest four years ago, you philistines! There are a lot of robots out there–R2D2, VICI, Mitt Romney–but only one of them wears a football helmet and does things that vaguely resemble Ray Lewis after he’s knocked someone’s head off. I think we can all agree that’s pretty cool, you guys.

Haven’t you always wished that you could bring all the air guitarin’, finger pointin’, trash talkin’ fun of Cleatus home with you? No? Too bad. Now you have to. Because there is now a branded Cleatus action figure for 24 NFL teams and every football fan must buy one or face severe repercussions! You can pose him doing the Heisman or the Dougie or any of the many other hilarious antics that have brought this wacky robot into the hearts of millions of Americans.

What’s that? The NFL has 32 teams? You’re right! That means eight of them have a modicum of dignity! See if you can guess which ones opted out. I think you’ll be pleasantly annoyed with how much time you’ve wasted.

I think my favorite feature of this action figure is its list of features as seen here:

“Yeah, it comes with team logo and colors, Fox Sports logo, and choking hazard. We threw that in for free.”

Hat tip to @danielralston for tweeting this to my attention.

Up the Middle with Skitch Hanson: NFL, I Can’t Stay Mad at You

Today, Scratchbomb once again hands over the reins to nationally syndicated sports columnist Skitch Hanson, as we’ve done many times before. You may know Skitch as the author of the highly popular syndicated column “Up The Middle.” You may have read his best-selling book If You Can’t Fix It, Don’t Break It, and Other Homespun Aphorisms I Heard My Mechanic Say. He’s also a frequent guest on ESPN’s sportswriters panel show Opinions! You can follow Skitch on Twitter here. Without further ado, here’s Skitch.

When you say “summer,” some people think of sandy beaches, crashing waves, little drinks with umbrellas in them. But for me, when I hear someone say “summer,” first I wonder why they are just saying one decontextualized word; it seems odd, if you ask me. But then I think of the glory of NFL training camp. 350 pound defensive tackles running around in tiny shorts, glistening with sweat. Coaches screaming expletives through the blazing heat, while also wearing tiny shorts. Fans standing around and squinting. If you can think of a better way to spend a 97 degree August afternoon, I’d like to to hear it!

So when the NFL lockout dragged through June and July, I feared this summer would be a complete loss. I wasn’t having a great summer to begin with. First, my editor wanted a feature on the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates, but I haven’t been welcome in that locker room since that time I accidentally broke Andy Van Slyke’s kneecap with a fungo bat. (Long story short: I thought a saw a moth land on him.) Then, we had a bit of an ant problem at the Hanson household, which all started when my special fridge in the basement conked out, thus inviting the critters inside to feast on all the melted stores of frozen brownie batter I saved over the winter. All of this came on the heels of those trying two weeks when my wife locked herself in the bathroom with 12 boxes of Franzia and ordered one amulet after another from QVC.

No matter. All that’s in the past now (although my wife still is holed up in the washroom). The NFL is like that girlfriend who treats you badly, but you’ll always take her back when she bats her eyes and says she’s sorry, because…well, we all know why, right, fellas? That’s right, because she makes a killer pot roast. Of course, in this case, “killer pot roast” stands for “exciting grid iron action,” served up with a side of “Hail Mary passes” and a bowl of “thrilling playoff matchups” for desert.

Even though I’ve been covering the NFL labor situation since day 1, this sudden lockout resolution really took me by surprise. Granted, for the last month I’ve been covering it from a Day’s Inn out in Lawrence, Kansas. My editor said I should cover the ongoing negotiations between the owners and the players’ union from here. I tried to explain that none of the talks were happening anywhere near here, but he said it was the best place for me. So I can’t say I’ve had a bird’s eye view of the process, but I did get to see the historical site where William S. Burroughs first tried heroin.

Though I accept the NFL’s return with open arms, I still have to give a wag of my finger to those greedy players. If they had accepted the owners’ terms months ago, we would have never gone through this ordeal, and I wouldn’t have had to pitch potential articles to curling magazines as a fall-back plan. (I’ve read more about brooms than one man ever should.) This is not France or China or some other country where we go on strike every time the government takes away your fifth coffee break, fellas. This is America, where you do whatever your boss tells you to do, because the thought of losing your job and your health insurance fills you with a primal, bone-shaking terror.

Do you think I wanted to cover that bungee jumping competition in Death Valley? Or that cow-pie chucking contest in Bismarck? Of course not. I didn’t like doing these things any more than I liked walking into my office and finding the boss urinating on my treasured autographed picture of Angela Lansbury. But the boss makes the rules, and we all have to abide by them with gritted teeth, even when those rules are expanded to allow him to pee on your most beloved possessions.

Who am I kidding? I can’t stay mad at the players! I can’t stay mad at anyone right now! Not even my wife, though I found an empty bottle of Grey Goose and several open condom wrappers in her car. For the NFL is back and all is right with this part of my world!

* * *

I’ve received many letters and emails in the last year or so, asking why I stopped doing my “some things I think about things I think” feature in my column. To be honest, at some point I just plum forgot! When you write so many columns and drink as many diet sodas as I do, the mind just doesn’t retain information as well as it used to.

But since at least 12 of you have asked for it, here is the return of Some Things I Think About Things I Think!

  • Brett Favre: You’ve done this act countless times over the past few seasons, and I think I speak for everyone when I say, Keep it up! Can’t wait to see you in Philly or Indy or whichever team will have you next!
  • A note to the girls in Bridesmaids: You don’t have to work “blue” to be funny. Just ask Vicki Lawrence. 
  • Broccoli rabe: Sorry, don’t get it.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera is having an amazing season, but there’s something about that name I still don’t trust.
  • Call me crazy, but that Ashton Kutcher is gonna be a star.
  • Heard some Montgomery Gentry from a gas station PA system, and I have to say I was impressed.
  • Who has been better than Jamey Carroll this season? I would say several players have been.
  • Do they still make nail clippers?
  • What is going on with Congress these days? Could somebody tell me? I don’t watch the news too often.
  • Of all the high priced free agents who never won a World Series, Carlos Beltran never won one the most.
  • Finally saw that show Breaking Bad. I think it’s a little too intense for a program about a chemistry lab.
  • My wife just kissed some muscular, dark-haired stranger and left the house with him, arm in arm, as if I wasn’t even here. Must be Tuesday.
  • I often wonder what Christopher Cross is up to.

NFL Draft Night: What to Watch For!

  • The NFL has provided free pre-draft entertainment for attendees. It can be found within a 15-block radius of Radio City Music Hall, where sweaty out of towners in Browns and Rams jerseys struggle to adjust to the local New York custom of Walking to Places.
  • Cam Newton remains the consensus favorite to be the #1 pick, but teams may have soured on him after he appeared on that idiotic Jon Gruden QB Camp monstrosity.
  • NFL insiders think this might be the year someone finally decides to take Chris Berman out.
  • Rumor has it Jets coach Rex Ryan may make an appearance to join Gang Green fans in hurling obscenities at whoever the team drafts.
  • NFL rules state that a team must draft the player commissioner Goodell reads at the podium, even if he reads the wrong name by mistake. That’s how the Cardinals wound up drafting Marisa Tomei in 1990.
  • Four millionaire sportscasters have been given an all-expenses-paid trip to Manhattan just so they all can say “This guy knows how to play the game” three times an hour. Just thought you’d like to know that.
  • By federal law, all players eligible for the draft must allow ESPN cameras into their home and provide the entire crew with a reasonable lunch-type meal. Simply putting out snacks is not acceptable (see ESPN vs. Tavaris Jackson and Good Guys Catering, 2006).
  • The draft concludes on Sunday when “Mr. Irrelevant” is chosen, and Mel Kuiper is placed back into his cryogenic freeze chamber for another 11 months.
  • Remember when nobody picked Brady Quinn for, like, forever? That was hilarious.
  • Roger Goodell is completely okay with spending money on this self-love fest while giving nothing to catastrophically concussed retired players. Just thought you’d like to know that, too.
  • ESPN’s broadcast day will be given over to post-draft wrap-up and debriefing until LeBron dunks something or the next Yankees-Red Sox game, whichever comes first.

Nation’s Bookies Reject NFL’s Appeal

THE POOL HALL–In a huge blow to commissioner Roger Goodell’s efforts to extend the NFL lockout, the league’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling has been rejected by a council of the nation’s bookies. In affirming the lower court’s decision, the bookies stated that “it’s in the best interest of everyone that we get this shit done, pronto.”

“Training don’t start, preseason don’t start,” said council member Joey Legs at a press conference convened inside Cue Shotz Pool Hall, next to the one working pay phone. “Preseason don’t start, can’t start makin’ odds. I don’t make odds, people don’t bet, I’m broke. Cuz whether I make money or I don’t, I still gotta kick upstairs. The Big Man don’t wanna hear about no lockout. Simple, right? Yeah, real simple, ya fuckwads.”

“We got the fuckin draft starting tonight,” said council member Frankie Beans, who emerged from bathroom mid press conference. “You know how many people woulda come to me with first round picks if it weren’t for this lockout shit. Madon’!”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell vowed he would appeal the bookies’ decision, but the council believed it was in the league’s best interest to drop any further legal challenges. “Why does this asshole think people watch football, cuz it’s fun?” said council member Danny. “They watch it cuz they all got paychecks ridin on it. What, this ginger asswipe don’t wanna make money.”

Nonetheless, Goddell promised he would go forward with more appeals of the federal court’s decision, and also said, “the ‘ginger asswipe’ remark was unnecessary. I ain’t been nothin but straight with Danny.”

With the NFL matter ruled on, the bookies’ council will now turn its attention to when the hell you plan on getting them their money.

Judge Ends NFL Lockout, Orders Players to Pummel One Another

MINNEAPOLIS–A federal judge officially ended the NFL lockout on Monday and ordered all of its players to “recommence pummeling one another with all due expediency.” In her ruling, Judge Susan Richard Nelson remarked that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had violated players’ rights by “denying them the protections of collective bargaining, and robbing them of the ability to beat each other senseless.”

“This is a great day for NFL players’ rights, for the fans, and for old school ass whuppin’,” said NFLPA president DeMaurice Smith upon hearing of the decision. “By siding with the players, the court has definitively said the owners were in the wrong when they enjoined us from causing catastrophic harm to each other.”

Commissioner Goodell vowed to appeal the decision. “The league feels the judge has erred in her decision and we will continue to seek redress in all legal avenues at the league’s disposal. However, we want to stress that though we may disagree on a few points, the NFL’s owners and my office share with players the desire to see them back on the field killing each other. No one wants to see players crushing bones and causing traumatic head injuries more than we do.”

Despite the ruling, players are still not allowed to practice at team facilities until the judge’s decision is clarified, and until the NFL’s appeal can be filed. During that time, Smith advised players “to continue their usual off season training regimens and murder each other at off-site locations.”

An 80s Palate Cleanser from Phil Simms

Just so I’m not ending the working week on a total down note, please enjoy this workout video from the glorious, un-self-aware 1980s starring Phil Simms. This came over my transom thanks to Dan Epstein, author of the great retrospective of 1970s baseball Big Hair and Plastic Grass. I interviewed Dan on this site way back in May of last year. Why not read it, tough guy?

The Five-Cent Redemption of the Sports World

roethlisberger.jpgThe problem with sports reporters–one of them, anyway–is that they see things completely through the perspective of their beat. I’m sure the same is true of all types of reporters; it’s a job where a certain amount of myopia is necessary to do it well. But this becomes a serious problem when the thorny real world pops up in a sports context. Some sportswriters can handle it, but most can’t, at least not without the hammiest of fists.

Witness Phil Taylor in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated. The Steelers lost the Super Bowl, and this made him very happy, because Ben Roethlisberger deserved to lose thanks to his accusations of sexual assault.

[T]he path to forgiveness for Roethlisberger requires more than leading a crisp two-minute drill. “Seems like some people want Ben to walk across a bed of nails before they’ll cut him any slack,” says Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward. Now, there’s a thought. But in the absence of that kind of pain, seeing Big Ben in the professional agony that comes with losing the Super Bowl will have to do. Apologies for boorish behavior and promises to be a better man can be coached and choreographed. The kind of hurt Roethlisberger expressed after the loss in Dallas cannot.

“I feel like I let people down,” he said after the game, in which he
threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns but also tossed two critical interceptions. “I feel like I let the city of Pittsburgh down, the fans, the coaches, my teammates.”

Good. Let it bleed. He went on to rattle off the names of teammates who had played through injuries, lineman Chris
Kemoeatu, wide receivers Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders among them. “It’s even more disappointing for me because I let a lot of people down who showed up today to fight,” he said.
Even better. [all emphasis Taylor’s]

Aside from the fact that Taylor really pours on his wishes for pain (Good. Let it bleed.), I find this kind of piece troubling for a larger reason. We’re talking about something awful that (allegedly) happened outside the playing field. How is losing a Super Bowl any sort of “payback”? The guy’s lost football games before. I’m sure he’ll get over it. In pure karmic terms, if Roethlisberger is guilty, the scales would only be balanced when he himself had to endure some unwanted sexual advances from doofy-looking hairy dudes.

By saying that the Steelers loss was just desserts for Roethlisberger, you are in essence saying that losing the Super Bowl = sexual assault. By my own moral calculus, that doesn’t add up.

Also, Roethlisberger has already won the Lombardi Trophy twice. So does this mean God/karma/The Universe is okay with suspected rapists earning two championships, but three is just beyond the pale?

The same kinds of things were written about Michael Vick this year. He was redeeming himself on the football field, said an upsettingly large number of writers. Some thrilling comebacks and electric performances were good enough to make up for killing dozens of living things, apparently. Then, when he laid an egg in the first round of the playoffs, he suddenly still had a lot to prove about himself. The implication: If the Eagles had gone all the way, he would have become a decent human being.

You can think whatever you want about Vick. He’s actually served time in prison for his crimes, so if you believe that’s sufficient to pay for what he did, you’re entitled to that opinion. But if you think he still has a lot to answer for, the idea that he could compensate for his crimes by being really good at football is at best naive, at worst disturbing.

In the world of a sportswriter, any human failing can be redeemed with on-field heroics, even failings as heinous as Vick’s and Roethlisberger’s. Because that’s all they know. They eat, breathe, and sleep sports, so everything about The World must be interpreted through this lens.

Sports are not alone in this regard. Some people think Roman Polanski’s films excuse him drugging and raping a 13 year old. If Charlie Sheen somehow ever won an Oscar, I’m sure we’d hear “redemption” stories about him, too.

And to be fair, it’s not just professional sportswriters who do this. I saw plenty of ordinary fans tweeting throughout the Super Bowl with harsh words for Roethlisberger, delighting in his interceptions and poor first-half performance, suggesting this was karmic redemption–while also making an endless series of rape jokes, indicating they’d completely missed the point of disliking Roethlisberger in the first place.

Regardless of subject, I find it morally suspect at best. Forgiveness can not truly be achieved without some measure of empathy for those you victimized. It can only come after some long, dark night of the soul where you face yourself and come to grips with what you’ve done. It does not involve throwing perfect spirals or breaking free of a few tackles and scrambling for a first down.

If you want to believe the likes of Vick and Roethlisberger are not in need of redemption, that’s up to you. But if you think they still have much to answer for, you can’t also think that answering can be done on a sports context. Because if that’s true, let’s just give prisoners footballs and see which ones play the best, so we can determine which are most deserving of parole. It’s equally as fair and makes about as much sense.

Skitch Speaks

Last week, on his way to Dallas for the Super Bowl, Skitch Hanson seemed to have landed himself in some kind of sticky situation. I didn’t hear from all weekend and I started to worry. Worry sick, I tell you.

Slowly, we are getting some dispatches from Skitch, who seems way over his head, as you can see below (read from the bottom up, dummy). If you want to keep on top of his thrilling adventures, tune into his twitter feed, @skitchhanson.

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NFL to Monitor Excessive Offseason Celebrations

Thumbnail image for sbxlv.pngDALLAS–NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned members of the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers that he would closely monitor excessive celebrations this offseason. Players have been cautioned that should be respectful when enjoying the fruits of their hard-won victory between February and September.

“Members of the NFL’s competition committee will be keeping a close eye on the Packers from now until training camp,” Goodell said during an on-field postgame press conference immediately at the end of regulation. “We want to ensure that all post-Super Bowl celebrations are tasteful and sportsmanlike.”

Under new NFL excessive celebration rules, each player on the winning team is only allowed to hoist the Lombardi trophy once, and only “with both arms, at a height not to exceed two inches above the top of the head.” Players are also limited to “the spraying of no more than two bottles of moderately priced champagne, at a radius of no more than 1.5 feet away from the player’s person.”

But the regulations do not stop at the post-game locker room celebration. “Players are reminded that homecoming celebrations after the Super Bowl should be limited to one dinner with immediate family members at an NFL-approved chain restaurant,” Goodell noted. “Your NFLPA rep should have a list of such restaurants handy. You are also limited to one vacation, domestic only, not to exceed two weeks, preferably at an NFL-sanctioned family resort.”

The Packers made clear their compliance with their new rules. Players celebrated on the field by exchanging hearty handshakes, but no hugs (which could have resulted in severe penalties). Coach Mike McCarthy announced that upon returning to Green Bay, the team would commemorate their win with a trip to CiCi’s Pizza. In preparation for a victory parade, Jim Schmitt, the town’s mayor, has submitted all confetti to the league office to make sure it meets regulation ticker-tape standards.

The NFL instituted the excessive celebration rules last year after it was discovered that some Saints players had used their offseason to throw large parties for family and friends. At these revels, voices were reportedly raised and laughs rung out at levels described by witnesses as “kind of loud”. Other players took pictures of themselves with the Lombardi trophy that showed, in the words of Goodell, “an inordinate amount of joy and self-satisfaction.”

“Winning the Super Bowl is a privilege, not a right,” Goddell said. “Teams who forget this will face suspensions, loss of draft picks, and my scornful, icy glare.”