What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
As we enter a new year, once more we find ourselves having just completed what has proven to be a tumultuous twelve months. That makes this the perfect time to take a look back at the stories which had or promise to have the most impact on the world of sports as we head into the new year. That’s why it’s an annual tradition here to run down 15 such stories in sport we think mattered the most. Not all of them are positive stories, but not every movie has a happy ending. In other worlds, it’s our list, so if you don’t like it, go make your own.
15) The Ever-Widening Encroachment Of Video Review
Major League Baseball just announced that the umpire’s union has agreed to participate in the testing of an automated “ball and strike” call system. This just means yet another example of the powers-that-be in the sports world buying yet another bag of magic beans for a solution to a problem that doesn’t really exist. The one mistake an official can make in one game will draw all the attention; the 100 that didn’t get blown are the ones which get ignored. So for the sake of a vast minority of calls, we’ve bought into the idea of “video review.”
Don’t get me wrong, video review has it’s uses, but it inevitably gets seen as a “be-all, end-all” fix for all that ails officiating. It can’t be that, and it’s not capable of being that, because it can’t address the root cause of the problem…firing bad officials. Thanks to the fact the official in all major sports in America are unionized, it’s nearly impossible to get rid of the ones who are terrible. Until that gets addressed, you can video review anything you want, and the elephant in the room will still be there.
Here’s hoping baseball figures this out…the National Football League (NFL) certainly hasn’t.
14) The Saga Of The Golden State Warriors, Kevin Durant And The NBA In General
Pseudo-psychologist Dr. Phil says “no matter how flat you make a pancake, it still has two sides.” That’s his “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit” way of saying every story had two sides. Well, thanks to Sports Illustrated, the Dr. Phil of sports journalism, we now know that Durant’s side was all about being a prima donna.
“I came in there wanting to be part of a group, wanting to be part of a family, and definitely felt accepted,” Durant told the Wall Street Journal’s J.R. Moehringer. “But I’ll never be one of those guys. I didn’t get drafted there.… Steph Curry, obviously drafted there. Andre Iguodala, won the first Finals, first championship. Klay Thompson, drafted there. Draymond Green, drafted there. And the rest of the guys kind of rehabilitated their careers there. So me? Shit, how you going to rehabilitate me? What you going to teach me? How can you alter anything in my basketball life? I got an MVP already. I got scoring titles.”
Grow the fuck up already. I spend my entire work week around people I don’t like, but I’m there to do a job and I get paid for doing it. So are you, Kevin. That’s the whole idea behind team sports; you do your job in order to contribute to something larger than yourself. But the bigger story here is this is what’s the NBA has become; a league driven by it’s stars; far too many of whom are petulant cry-babies. Maybe that’s why it’s ratings are in the tank. Manage that load.
13) The Beginning Of The End For The NCAA
Granted, this is but the first crack in the monolith, but the same thing happened with the Berlin Wall. Eventually, the cracks cause a collapse, and in the case of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), it’s none too soon. This is easily the most corrupt organization in sports this side of FIFA; it became so attempting to maintain the illusion of the amateur nature of collegiate sports while raking in billions from football and men’s basketball.
Earlier this year, the NCAA announced it will begin the process to allow college athletes to profit from their name, image, and likeness in what is nothing less than a tectonic shift. Don’t forget just weeks before this announcement, NCAA president Mark Emmert said the name, image and likeness issue was an “existential threat” to the collegiate model. I can’t help but see the analogy between Emmert’s abrupt “about-face” and the day in 1989 the East Germans opened the Brandenburg Gate; the Berlin Wall was so much rubble within a month.
But since the NCAA has finally come to terms with not only the impact of the Ed O’Bannon case, but a general sea change in the attitude toward college athletes getting a slice of the multi-billion industry that football and men’s basketball, the end of the NCAA is visible on the horizon. If you doubt that, ask yourself what other reason did the NCAA have to exist other than other than the construction and maintenance of the aforementioned illusion?
12) The NFL Health Care Fraud Care Investigation
In early December, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced the filing of criminal charges accusing 10 former NFL players of defrauding millions of dollars from the league’s health care benefits program. The prosecution’s case came in two separate indictments filed in federal court involving charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, and healthcare fraud. Prosecutors allege the former players submitted nearly $4 million in fraudulent claims, leading to payouts of about $3.4 million between June 2017 and December 2018.
Prosecutors allege the players targeted the Gene Upshaw NFL Player Health Reimbursement Account Plan, which was established as part of a collective bargaining agreement in 2006. It provides tax-free reimbursement of out-of-pocket medical care expenses that were not covered by insurance and that were incurred by former players, their spouses, and dependents. The indictments accuse the former players of fabricating documentation health care providers about the medical need for equipment, forging prescriptions, and generating fraudulent invoices from medical equipment companies in an effort to prove the equipment was purchased.
This is just the opening act of a story which is going to mushroom over time, and it’s tentacles are going to have a long-reach. When I’m not the most interesting independent sports blogger on the web, my “real” job involves dealing with health insurance claims, so I can tell you first-hand if these allegations are true, these ex-players are in big fucking trouble. Not only that, don’t forget that the health-care for players was a major part of the negotiations in the last collective bargaining agreement (CBA), it promises to be so again in the upcoming negotiations, and this fraud issue will serve as a tidy complication to all that.
11) Liverpool’s Champions League Comeback
For fans of American football, you can forget about New England’s 28-3 comeback against Atlanta in the Super Bowl a few years back; its been eclipsed. Things looked rather bleak for the Merseysiders heading into the second leg of their semi-final against Barcelona. Granted, the match was to be played at Anfield, but they were saddled with a 3-0 deficit on aggregate and the Reds would be without injured stars Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. Once again, it seemed that Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side would come up short yet again on it’s quest to return to the pinnacle of world football.
Nobody bothered to tell Divock Origi, Georginio Wijnaldum, and goalkeeper Alisson they were supposed to roll over an let Barcelona return to the Champions League final yet again. Origi brought The Kop to its feet in the seventh minute with his maiden Champions League goal. However, the outlook was still not favorable for Liverpool when the injury to Andy Robertson’s injury forced James Milner to left-back and Georginio Wijnaldum into the match from the bench. But near the hour mark, the craziest 122 seconds of Champions League football ever happened when the Dutch midfielder Wijnaldum brought Liverpool level with two rapid-fire scores. Origi sealed the deal in the 79th minute notching the winner as a result of a corner.
Combined with Alisson’s clean sheet which included stone-walling chances from both Lionel Messi and former Liverpudlian Luis Suarez, Barcelona suffered yet another crushing defeat and Liverpool eventually completed it’s ascendance to the top of world football by taking home the Champions League trophy.
10) The Rise And Fall Of The Alliance Of American Football
Time to go back to the world of American football. The Alliance of American Football (AAF) was a start-up league which only lasted eight weeks, but it wasn’t without it charms. Frankly, I found it to be rather enjoyable. But like any fledgling business, it had it’s challenges. I detailed those when the AAF was featured in it’s own episode in the series Sports Analogies Hidden in Classic Movies. Once could easily say the “bottom line” with the demise of the AAF was in fact the bottom line; the money just wasn’t there. That could be true, but I think the money problems came when investors were afraid of running afoul of the 800-pound gorilla in the football world, the National Football League.
If nothing else, the AAF showed there were some simple solutions for many of the problems the NFL seems to be unable to grasp. It that respect it proved to be ahead of it’s time, which is why the NFL yanked it’s original support for this league. The only remaining question is will we be saying the same things about Vince McMahon’s 2020 re-boot of the XFL?
9) Brooks Koepka Becomes Golf’s New Rising Star
The term “changing of the guard” may be one of the most shopworn clichés in all of sports, but it certainly feels as if that’s exactly what is happening in golf. Brooks Koepka burst on to the scene in 2018, by winning both U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, then he cemented his star status in 2019 by becoming the first player to win both of those events in consecutive years. Just take a look at where that places Koepka historically:
Now, let’s look at “Part II” of golf’s guard change…
8 ) Tiger Woods Stakes His Claim As Golf’s “G.O.A.T”
To have a “changing of the guard,” one needs two things; Koepka’s ascent is but one. You also need a guy making legacy-defining achievements. After Tiger Woods win at the 2019 Master’s and tying Sam Snead for the most tour victories, it’s time to have a serious conversation about Woods’ legacy as the greatest golfer the sport has ever seen. The only argument against is that Jack Nicklaus has still won more major tournaments than Woods, but that easy to dismiss…after all, six Super Bowls doesn’t make Tom Brady the greatest quarterback.
Having said that, let’s take a look at ten things that can only be said about Tiger Woods:
Here’s the challenge…compile such a list for anybody you want to call the “G.O.A.T.” in anything.
7) The Collapse Of The Tampa Bay Lightning
There’s an old adage in hockey that the team that wins the President’s Cup (given for having the best regular-season record) never wins the Stanley Cup. Nobody put that more in the realm of reality more than did the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning cruised through the NHL season like the Red Army through Berlin in 1945, clinching a play-off with over a month to go in the schedule. The Lighting became only the second team in NHL history to win 62 games, tying the record set by the 1995–96 Detroit Red Wings. This season would mark the first time that Tampa Bay won the President’s Cup, but just like the 1995–96 Red Wings, they did not hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.
However, unlike those Red Wings, the Lightning didn’t win one play-off series. In fact, they didn’t win a single play-off game. In a collapse unseen in Tampa since the Sunshine Skyway disaster of 40 years ago, the Lighting became the first President’s Cup winner to get swept in the first round of the play-offs, the Columbus Blue Jacket playing the role of the Summit Venture, the cargo ship that knocked Tampa off it’s trestle.
6) Maximum Security Disqualified At The Kentucky Derby
First the first time ever in the Kentucky Derby, the horse that crossed the finish line first didn’t win the Kentucky Derby. Maximum Security appeared to win the 145th running of the sport’s most famous race, but within minutes of the finis, spectators both live and via television were alerted to the fact an objection had been raised against the first-place horse by second-place finisher Country House. In an anti-climactic end to the “two most exciting minutes in sports,” after a half-hour review by the race stewards, Maximum Security was deemed to have committed a foul and was consequently disqualified.
Maximum Security led for the majority of the race, but on video replay, the stewards ruled Maximum Security violated the interference rule by swinging to the right and altering the paths of War of Will, Long Range Toddy, and Country House. The rule as written calls for disqualification if “a leading horse or any other horse in a race swerves or is ridden to either side so as to interfere with, intimidate, or impede any other horse or jockey.” After the review, the stewards determined that Maximum Security interfered with the path of several horses as the field of 19 rounded the final turn, thus the race was awarded to second-place finisher Country House.
5) What Happened To “Brexit?”
This isn’t about the current political kerfuffle about Great Britain ;leaving the European Union. Rather this is about the state of English football. Between the fact the England hasn’t won a World Cup since 1966, and an English team hadn’t taken home the Champions League trophy since 2012, the word in the soccer street was that English football was on the wane. Well, the reports of the death of English football were premature. 2019 saw all the finalists in both UEFA European competitions being wavers of the Union Jack. The Champions League came down to Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, and the Europa League final feature Arsenal and Chelsea, with Liverpool and Chelsea emerging victorious.
Now, with Euro 2020 coming soon, can England atone for it’s 2016 loss to Iceland?
4) The Necropolis Known As Santa Anita Racetrack
Nobody knows why, but the fact is that 56 horse have died at the greater Los Angeles area race track since July 2018. It’s reached the point where racing was temporarily suspended in 2019 and there have been calls for a statewide initiative to ban horse racing in California. A government task force was impaneled and after it’s investigation and reported that it “did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct relating to the equine fatalities.”
That statement is a good an answer as anybody has had for this situation, but the fact remains nobody knows what is causing this, and as is wont in this country, it’s been politicized which virtually guarantees no answers will be found. Meanwhile, Santa Anita opened it’s 83rd winter meeting and racing season this past weekend.
3) Russia’s Ban From Global Sport
Once again Russia has run afoul of the international sporting community, now finding itself banned from international sports for four years. This decision shouldn’t really surprise anybody who has paying this even the slightest bit of attention, given that it’s common knowledge the Russkies have been running a doping mill going all the way back to the Soviet era. Not only that, but the scale to which they’ve gone to conceal it, obfuscate and frustrate attempts to unmask it is nothing short of extraordinary. But in the finest tradition of corrupt international sporting authorities, the World Anti-doping Association left the door open for individual Russian athletes to compete despite the banning of the Russian state, in much the same manner they as they did at the Winter Olympics in 2018.
Because even if they are a bunch of cheaters, the Russkies draw television ratings…you know, just like the New England Patriots.
2) The Attempted Assassination Of David Ortiz
On June 9, 2019, an attempt was made in the Dominican Republic on the life of former Boston Red Sox slugger player David Ortiz. While he survived the attack, he was gravely wounded, necessitating Ortiz’ hospitalization between the Dominican Republic and the United States for nearly three weeks. While crimes directed toward famous athletes are nothing new, when they happen in less-developed countries, they tend to be crimes aimed at the athlete’s wealth…things like robberies and kidnappings for ransom.
But even with third-world surveillance cameras, this was obviously a “hit;” somebody wanted Ortiz dead. The question remains “Why?”
At first, the Dominican investigators confirmed the original suspicion this shooting of David Ortiz was a paid “hit.” They even named a suspect, Rolfi Ferreira Cruz. But within days, the story coming from the Dominican authorities inexplicably changed; the motive for the shooting was now being called being a case of “mistaken identity.” The victim now was supposed to be some guy named Sixto David Fernandez.
Now, there were so many problems with this story even before it began changing that it left nothing but doubts about the official account, not the least of which is the guy who was supposed to be the target of this attack is on record as saying he has no known enemies and does not look like Ortiz.
Besides, I’m not buying “mistaken identity” unless this guy is a dead ringer for “Florida Evans” from “Good Times.”
1) The NBA/China Debacle
Here’s another example of the desire for the almighty dollar confusing core values. Despite how “woke” the National Basketball Association (NBA) has become under Commissioner Adam “Nosferatu” Silver, you would find an uphill battle in convincing me the NBA really doesn’t believe in human rights. But they sure did a hell of a job giving the impression they don’t. Frankly it’s hard to come to another conclusion given the fact throughout this matter, the NBA did nothing but wrap itself around it’s own axle; it continually contradicted itself cow-towing to a communist dictatorship which is the definition of a modern police-state and has the track record of human rights abuses to back that up.
The worst part is none of this had to happen. All they had to do was keep this about the business deal.
This all starts because the NBA can’t help but be a moth to the flame of a potential Chinese audience well over a billion people for it’s product. That’s what the whole exercise of having pre-season games in China was all about. That’s also why Commissioner Adam “Nosferatu” Silver found himself walking an untenable tightrope; trying to find a balance point between the allure of a potential mountain of cash, but having to embrace a brutal, totalitarian regime to get it.
Truth be told, it was hard for me to see Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey as little more than a scapegoat in all of this. While his tweet about the protests in Hong Kong did serve as the catalyst for the collapse of the NBA’s Chinese house of cards, it’s collapse was inevitable because it was…for lack of a better term, a house of cards.
The reason why is exceptionally simple. It’s the classic “Hobson’s Choice;” Commissioner Nosferatu had a free choice in which there really was only one thing being offered. In other words, he could either take the money from China or he could leave it. Taking the money meant allowing the perception the NBA doesn’t care about the repressive Chinese regime. Leaving the money meant exactly that…leaving the money. Another dose of truth is the NBA has been looking for another big payday like the cash infusion the most recent television deal provided to the league. But the powers-that-be in NBA know the days of the huge cable-TV money are one the wane. That’s what makes the idea of all that Chinese cash that much more alluring.
Now for the “Colonel Jessup” level of truth. Like I said, all of this could have been avoided. While it’s too late now as the damage has been done, the solution to this situation would have been just as simple. All the NBA had to do was drop the pretense they cared about anything other than the money.
The dirty little not-so-secret is American enterprises do a colossal amount of business with China, mostly because it’s a mutually beneficial arrangement. China has the labor force for manufacturing, and America has the market in which to sell the finished products. This is reversed in the case of the NBA; it has the product and China has the market. Realistically, it’s a distinction without a difference, because this is still all about being mutually beneficial.
To that end, it’s time to stop the collective hand-wringing and admit we all do business with the Chinese whether we realize it or not. You would have to make a concerted effort to have a house without a Chinese-made product in it, In other words, I’m not listening to your standing up for human rights while your feet are in a pair of Chinese-made shoes.
That’s why none of this had to happen. The NBA’s problem wasn’t taking the “blood money” because everybody in this country has already done that. The flood of Chinese-made products stems from the collective American thirst for low consumer prices. All the NBA had to do was stop pretending; everybody being intellectually honest knew they were paying lip-service to some lofty load of shit about “ideals” while taking the money was obviously the goal all along.
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