Category Archives: Olympics

Gabby: You’ve Done Enough.

If I was advising Gabby Douglas I’d have told her to pack her leotard and two gold medals right after the all-around and told her to become the most famous prime-time cheerleader on the planet.

I wouldn’t have allowed her to touch another uneven bar, floor mat, pommel horse–whatever.

Certainly not in London. Maybe not for the rest of ’12.

Why?

Because she had nowhere to go bot to fall on her tush.

Just as she did today–figuratively–finishing dead last in the unevens, an event at which she typically soars.

But who could be surprised? I wasn’t.

It was enough that she was suddenly the girl on top of the mountain–a very dangerous place to be whether at the Olympics or at back at high school. Suddenly she was the target, the potential notch on the tiny belt of every other woman in the competition.

Moreover, she she suddenly had to deal with the  asinine silliness about her hair, and the unfortunate news of her mom’s bankruptcy filing, and, well, dang, she’s just 16.

Gabby will have to content with more than a mountain of love from us when she returns home. Enough love to choke a kid. More love than we can imagine.

It’s the “price,” as one columnist eloquently stated today.

True. So why add to the bill by making her compete again when her heart and head are clearly still dealing with the good, the bad and the silly of success?

Take a seat, Gabby. Cheer your teammates. Rest. You’ll need it.

Twitter Takes Out First Olympic Competitor

Did you hear the one about Voula Papachristou, the Greek triple jumper? No? And you won’t either because she’s no joke. She’s also no longer an Olympian.

Kudos to the Greek Olympic committee for bouncing her off the team and out of London for her ignorant (and many are saying racist) tweets about Africans.

Athens is being infested Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes, which has been widely reported. On Sunday, the very blonde Papachristou tweeted: ”With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!”.

Ha! Ha!

Bye! Bye!

The tweet inspired thousands of negative responses (thankfully!), and one very clear response today from the Hellenic Olympic Committee: “[Papachristou is]” placed outside the Olympic team for statements contrary to the values and ideas of the Olympic movement.”

After trying to awkwardly dismiss the tweets earlier, Papachristuo today struck a very different tone on Twitter and Facebook: ”I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account. I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.

”My dream is connected to the Olympic Games and I could not possibly participate if I did not respect their values. Therefore, I could never believe in discrimination between human beings and races. I would like to apologize to all my friends and fellow athletes, who I may have insulted or shamed, the National Team, as well as the people and companies who support my athletic career. Finally, I would like to apologize to my coach and my family.”

One Man’s Negro is Another Man’s ——?

Suarez and Evra during their not-so-"friendly" encounter.

I’m not well versed enough in European soccer to tell you much of anything about Patrice Evra, a talented Frenchman who plays fullback for Manchester United, or Liverpool’s Luis Suarez of Uruguay, the team’s most dangerous forwards.

Both men represented their countries in last year’s World Cup. They even faced off in a friendly that resulted in a 0-0 tie. (Evra captained the French squad until he was stripped of it after leading a controversial player revolt that became the hallmark of the team’s much-chronicled meltdown.)

On October 15, the two men crossed shins once again at a Premier League friendly and this time it wasn’t very, well, friendly at all.

Suarez was recently suspended for eight games for, in part, using the term “negro” (or the Spanish equivalent) during an on-the-field confrontation during that game.

That was revealed in a 155-page report conducted by an independent commission that detailed the whos, hows and, most important, the whys regarding what led to the suspension.

Suffice it to say that it came down to how the word was used rather than the use of the word itself.

Suarez contented that the term was not a disparaging one in Uruguay, and that may be true.

But Evra contended that Suarez used the term to punctuate sentences in which he said he would kick Evra and that he “doesn’t talk to” black players.

I’m in no position to say whether authorities over-reacted to the incident. But I applaud them for addressing it in a way that acknowledges the brewing trend of racists taunts that have come to characterize European soccer in recent months.

The penalty was almost certainly, in part, a reaction to the growing sense that European soccer, while still where the game is played better than anywhere else in the world, had become soft on racism.

There’s not only no place for that in sports (on any continent) but as the game continues to try and establish a foothold in the U.S., and as a global marketing power, many corporations will be reluctant to associate themselves with a sport won’t embrace all cultures.

Someone Must Die (So College Sports May Live)

Shutting down a vaunted program will send a much-needed message: No cheaters allowed!

I was heartened by what I heard coming out of last week’s annual gathering of athletic directors and rising star assistant coaches known as the Villa 7 conference at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. In an age when college sports is dissolving into a backwash of lies, cheating and other sordid scandals, the men and women who hope to be head coaches say they want no part of it and would like the NCAA to issue stiffer sanctions to those programs caught afoul of the rules.

VCU coach Shaka Smart’s vivid quote in The New York Times has been widely viewed as the kind of bold stance college sports’ next generation of coaches seems willing to embrace in order to avoid falling into the same mud hole that is swallowing so many of their predecessors:

“To me, there’s a way to dissuade people from violating the rules,” he said. “It’s to penalize more. In some cultures, if you steal, they cut your hand off. They probably have a lot less theft.”

Allow me to Shaka-it-up even more: In order to truly begin cleansing college sports, the NCAA must revive the death penalty.

More correctly, the organization must be willing to use it again.

The death penalty is, of course, the NCAA’s ultimate sanction: shutting down a program for at least an entire season. No more games. Cue the crickets.

It was most famously levied against SMU’s football program in 1986 when, while already on probation for major recruiting violations, the Mustangs were found to be paying players through an elaborate subterfuge aided and abetted by athletic department officials and an arrogant booster. (That’s redundant, I know.)

The NCAA shuttered the program for the 1987 and 1988 seasons. It was the first use of the new “repeat violator” rule, which allowed the NCAA to shut down a sport for one or two seasons if an institution committed a second major violation in five years.

Not surprisingly, the move devastated the Mustangs program, which had been widely respected and among the most successful in the nation. Hence the catchier “death penalty” moniker was born. Only just now, after nearly a quarter century, is SMU football beginning to hold its head high again.

The deep and sobering impact the death penalty had on SMU has seemed to make the NCAA skittish about levying it ever since.

But it has done so — sort of.

In 2003, the NCAA squashed historically black Morehouse College’s soccer team and banned it until 2006 after discovering recruiting violations involving two Nigerian players and a “lack of institutional control.” (Allegedly, some school officials didn’t even know the school had a soccer team!) Today, soccer at Morehouse is an intramural sport. Division III MacMurray College lost its 2006 and 2007 seasons after the school was found to have provided scholarships to 10 international players. The violation? Division III schools are not allow to offer athletic scholarships.

So while the NCAA has swung its big stick, it hasn’t come close to the big fat piñatas hanging in the middle the room — the ones plastered with names such as Auburn, UConn, North Carolina, Ohio State, USC, Tennessee and myriad other major universities with recent or future appointments with the NCAA.

And in the meantime, many of those schools have thrived on the field. Added Smart: “I think it’s pretty clear to a lot of people in this business that a lot of people who have broken the rules or bent the rules have prospered.”

No school feels any threat that its money-printing and money-burning machines — uh, programs, rather — might be deleted for something as trivial as, say, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to a street agent or family member for delivering a star player or “money handshake” or lying to NCAA investigators.

That’s why, in part, we are where we are — cringing at the daily headlines of impropriety run amok.

Until coaches, administrators and boosters do know their precious games can be eliminated, until they truly believe the NCAA will recast the hell of oblivion experienced by Mustangs football upon any institution that spits upon the rules, college sports will sink deeper and deeper into the mud hole.

And too, more and more coaches with stellar dossiers — icons such as Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun, Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and the once-celebrated (now exiled) former Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl — will reek of the stench of impropriety. Or be out of a job.

It’s no mystery why a few “new” schools were widely cheered over the last year for more than their success on the football field or basketball court. Stanford (disclosure: it’s my alma mater), Butler and VCU were among those institutions lauded not only for winning but also for doing so “the right way.”

Translation: They didn’t cheat. At least not that we know.

Sure, we all root for our schools. And the more they win, the closer they get to a championship of any sort, the easier it is to cheer for them, no matter which “way” they got there.

But my tolerance is waning. Fast.

And, thankfully, the next generation of coaches doesn’t seem to walk in the same muddy trails. Nor are they afraid to say so.

This fall, Ohio State and Auburn will be among the institutions that open their seasons beneath the cloud of an NCAA investigation that could affect their records in recent seasons.

Now is the time for the NCAA to let them, and all schools, know that their misdeeds will cost them, dearly. Perhaps for illegally texting a recruit … off with their thumbs!

The Day Dream “Team” Will Be Tested

It won't be easy for the best two of the Day Dream Trio

If LeBron James opens his mouth and tells Jim Gray “Miami” tonight – as it looks like he will – some folks will believe that David Stern will book his flight for Miami next spring, and order that the Larry O’Brien trophy be engraved with “Miami Heat, 2010-11 NBA Champions.”
I am not among them. Neither are Kobe, KG, Carlos, KD or even Amar’e. And a host of other, inside the NBA and out.
D-Wade, Bosh and LBJ did what they said they would do. They essentially picked their own playground team, deciding that their Day Dream trio could go onto the court with any three guys and win the NBA title.
Their experiment will be a great test of whether players are as good at being GMs as they think.
It’ll also test the word “team,” as they not only try and mesh their varied and prodigious skills but also try to elevate a roster that will be filled out with “minimum” guys. Guys with talent, for sure. Maybe even guys with great talent who’ll take less $ to be part of the NBA’s Day Dream.
But consider this: Look at the rosters of the great teams that the “new” Heat are already being compared to – the Lakers, Celtics, Pistons and Sixers teams of the 80s, for starters.
Who’ll be the Heat’s Byron Scott (or Michael Cooper), Dennis Johnson (or Gerald Henderson) , Dennis Rodman (or Joe Dumars), Andrew Toney (or Bobby Jones)? Sure their not competing against those teams, but who’ll be their Rajon Rondo, “Big Baby” Davis or Tony Allen? Who’ll be there Derek Fisher, Lamar Odom or Ron Artest? Heck, who’ll be their Rashard Lewis or Jared Dudley?
The team will also certainly have its detractors. LBJ will have to battle at least semi-hostile crowds in some cities (Do I really have to name them?) for the first time in his life.
This has never happened before, and may never happen again.
Now, we’ll see if it was all worth it.

Sports Needs an Economic Attitude Adjustment

Great coach. But maybe a bit out of touch.

Great coach. But maybe a bit out of touch.

It’s getting ugly out there.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he’ll slash his pay package by as much as 25 percent in order to save a few jobs. However, he can’t save them all. Anonymous team employees throughout sports are being sliced with the same sickle that has eliminated millions of jobs across America since last fall. NBA owners are divvying up $200 million in loans to cover millions in shortfalls due to diminishing ticket buyers and vanishing sponsors.

Every sport, maybe for the first time ever, is feeling the same economic pinch as the fans.

Pretty soon, NASCAR teams may consider carpooling.

And yet: Albert Haynesworth gets $100 million from Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, Manny Ramirez snub $45 million like it’s s stick insult before coming to his senses this week – and Jim Calhoun (pictured) just doesn’t get it.

Ugly.

The relationship between sports and fans has long been tenuous – not coincidentally, as salaries have risen to Wall Street CEOesque levels. That’s especially true among fans of a generation when their own paychecks carried pretty much the same digits as the men (and, yes, they were mostly men then, too) they cheered. Superstars always made superstar money, but there was a time when the working-stiff jock actually made near working-stiff wages.

So did most coaches – guys who chose the profession for the love of their sport more than the love of money.

Not anymore. Sports has created a new, young class of fast-twitch millionaires: guys who won the gene pool lottery and, in most instances, applied diligence, discipline and plain old hard work to their physical gifts and reached the highest level of their sport. And on the sidelines, pro coaches can afford to live next door to their superstars. In college, many make more than all but their elite players ever will.

I don’t begrudge any of them. I’ve always chuckled at the petty grumblings of folks who rail against them for one sin (“They’re not as good as their predecessors.”) or another (“They don’t hustle.”) when what they really mean is: They make too much damn money.

I typically chalk up their rants to ignorance and jealousy, and move on.

But now it could get uglier than a few rants. As more Americans are stripped of their livelihoods each day, sports is being given less of a pass.

Calhoun was asked at a postgame press conference to comment on his $1.6 million annual base salary at UConn, which makes him one of the highest-paid state employees at a time when Connecticut is facing a reported $944 million budget deficit that is projected to be $8 billion in two years.

His snippy response – “My advice to you is, shut up,” followed by a rift on how much money the Huskies generate for the university – has been polarizing. Governor M. Jodi Rell called it “embarrassing,” and the leaders of the state’s General Assembly want Calhoun to be reprimanded by the university. Conversely, many have defended the coach’s reaction, saying his success through the years more than justifies his compensation – even in these trying times.

Calhoun could have been more mature in his response, even if he has the data to back his argument. As it stands, he’s come off as the newest poster boy for the excesses of sports and showed how out of touch he is with Joe Taxpayer.

And it’s more than an isolated tempest. Attendance will likely be unaffected in Storrs, but loyal ticket-buyers elsewhere are deciding they can no longer afford to see their favorite team live or buy that $100 jersey; or they simply no longer have the desire to go see athletes and coaches who don’t seem to feel their pain.

As they grow weary of the kind of “not-my-economic problem” attitude displayed by Calhoun, Ramirez and others, sports may lose its status as The Great Escape. More fans may no longer see sports as a respite from the woes of their lives.

If sports can no longer serve that purpose, then what’s its purpose?

That’s a question no one wants to answer.

Reuters photograph

Note to D-Wade: Skip Beijing. You’re No Yao Ming

How many times can Dwayne Wade fall down and still get up? Pat Riley isn’t willing to find out, apparently.

Word was stirring late last week that Riley, the Heat head coach and president, was trying to shut Wade down. In the midst of this nightmare of a season, Riley wasn’t willing to risk any more injury to his young star. Today, it became officials -the Heat announced that Wade is done for the season.

The league’s fifth leading scorer has been nursing a sore right knee all season – possibly a residual of the surgery Wade had on his left knee and left shoulder last May. He missed 31 games last season and, with today’s news will have missed the same number of games this season. Not long ago, Wade was showcased in a famous Converse ad touting his toughness. Watch it here:

No one doubts Wade’s guts, certainly not me. But I’ve long wondered – as I watched Wade fall down so many times – just how long he’d get up. Or how long he’d last.

Two years ago, he was one-third of the three amigos that was rescuing the NBA from its seemingly interminable malaise. Along with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, they were the bright stars that were supposed to make us stop missing Michael Jordan and lure a new wave of fans to the game. Wade did his part, leading the Heat to the 2006 NBA title, and – as a tither and a young, married father – he was the kind of young man fans wanted their sons to be.

But the left knee and shoulder injury clearly affected him. And while he was as affective and aggressive this season as he’d, the season’s toll (on and off the court) was obvious – on his body, mind and heart. Last fall, the blogosphere was abuzz with rumors that Wade and his wife, Siohvaughn, might divorce. They have not.

For all of those reasons, shutting down is the right thing for Wade’s long-term viability. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally.

It’s also the right thing for the Heat, who are still hoping Wade will be their cornerstone into the next decade.

And Lord knows it’s the right thing for the league to allow him to sit, no matter whether or not Wade has a specific ,traumatic injury that prevents him from playing. (He played 39 minutes last Saturday against Atlanta.)

Later this week, Wade is slate to undergo a new, noninvasive treatment called OssaTron, a high-tech form of shock therapy. Today, Wade said, ‘The knee will be hit by shock waves, electrical shock waves. It’s actually a pretty painful experience.”

Afterward, Wade will limited to passive exercise for a month. before being able to return to basketball.

But here’s where it gets dicey: Wade says he still was to be part of the summer Olympic basketball team, which is shaping up as the for USA squad that just might be truly capable of winning a gold medal. Like Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, who’s out for the season with a foot injury but might be pressured into anchoring the Chinese national team’s home-turf quest for gold, Wade wants to represent his country on what looks to be the best USA squad in years.

Being somewhat of a Dream Team snob (I covered the original DT and had loathed anyone using the moniker to describe any of the pretenders that were cobbled together for the last several Olympics), I am actually cooling with calling USA Basketball’s new entry Dream Team II (For Real). Their displays during qualifying rounds show a lethal combination of talent and savvy regarding the international style of play.

They will win the gold medal in Beijing in August.

But Dwyane Wade should not be there. He should dispel any thoughts of joining LeBron, Carmelo, Dwight Howard and America’s other young guns as they seek to restore order to the basketball world – no matter how difficult it might be.

Sitting out now is the right thing to do. Sitting out Beijing is the smart thing to do. After all, no one knows just how many falls D-Wade’s body has left.

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The Wades – in happy times.

Marion Jones: Worse Than Martha Stewart?

Former Olympic track star Marion Jones has been publicly disgraced, humiliated, and stripped of her medals after admitting she took steroids last year.</p> <p>Now a judge has sentenced Jones to six months in prison for lying to the FBI during an investigation of the doping scandal, and having prior knowledge of a check fraud scam

I couldn’t help but think of Martha Stewart as I heard the fate levied against Marion Jones. For pleading guilty to two counts of perjury – Note to all: Lying to the Feds is a major no-no – she was sentenced to six months in prison, two years probation and 800 hours of community service, working with young athletes to warn them against the use of drugs.

Three-and-a-half years ago, Stewart, the media mogul, was given five months in prison and two years’ probation for obstruction of justice and fibbing to federal investigators about her sale of ImClone Systems stock in late 2001. She was also given five months of home confinement after her release and dinged $30,000. The sentence was the minimum allowed under federal guidelines, while the fine was the ma.

As we all know now, Jones’ troubles stem primarily from her decision to use steroids prior to the 2000 Olympics, where she won three gold medals, two bronze and solidified her status as the darling of American sports. She graced the kind of magazine covers that rarely featured female jocks, and she was shot with a stylish elegance that celebrated her beauty, power and grace.

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I thought of Martha Stewart for a couple of reasons. I wondered whether someone who had already lost everything had already endured enough. Her medals have been stripped. Once worth millions, her bank accounts are empty. She’s lost three homes, including one occupied by her mother. Her name purged from the Olympic records. And her name? Sullied perhaps beyond recovery. Did she deserve more (even if a mere month more) than a woman who committed the same crime but who was worth a reported $335 million on the day of her conviction and $640 million today?

It doesn’t seem so. Would not six months of house arrest not have sufficed? Especially for a woman, a first-time offender, with two children – one four, the other just seven months old? But I guess all bad choices are not created equal. Both women indeed made bad choices – choices driven by greed and ambition. And as celebrities, both women were partly punished to serve as “examples” to the rest of us – at at least to other celebs, who don’t seem to be getting the message.

But at least Jones can also take solace in this: She’s now at the bottom. She’s now been left only with the essence of who she is as a mother, a wife (looks like she finally chose right in this area) and as a woman. She’s just 32 years old, and has a lifetime left to write a new script.

That is perhaps was she should draw from Stewart, beginning with the thought that her time served can also be a time of renewal. Tomorrow should start the day she turns herself in to federal authorities, not when they release her. No doubt Stewart did deals in prison. She did not stop doing what she does. And neither should Marion Jones.

In our era of Steroid Madness, Jones is just one of many who fell pray to the lure the short-term fix, one that undermanned every moment of hard work she endured en route achieve greatness. But for her at least, that’s done.

All that’s left is for Jones to fold herself back into the starting blocks, bow her head and prepare for the next race. Not as an athlete. That race is over. But she’s just 32 years old. The same power, grace and beauty that made Jones the fastest woman in the world should serve well on another track.

So Marion: On your mark…

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SI 2007 Sportsman of the Year: The Feds

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Just kidding, of course. So my former colleagues at SI can relax. Besides, unlike TIME mag, which awards its Person of the Year to the person (or thing) that had the greatest impact on our lives (for good or disastrous), SI’s SOY is the person (or persons) who most embodies the spirit of sportsmanship blah, blah blah. So no worries, the feds will not be getting an amphora for their trophy case. (In truth, if the award doesn’t go to Tony Dungy there ought to be an investigation.)

Yet there’s no doubt that no one was more impactful (or annoying, depending on your perspective) on sports this year than the feds. They spent millions of your tax dollars chasing down and building cases at those notorious threats to society: Barry Bonds, Michael Vick, Tim Donaghy and Marion Jones.

Don’t get me wrong: Vick broke the law. Done. Marion Jones lied to grand jury. Done. Tim Donaghy danced with the mob and threatened the NBA’s very core. Done

Barry Bonds? We’ll see.

In the end, what will we have learned? How will our games have benefited from the millions spent on bringing these notorious law-breakers to justice.

Well, we learned dog fighting is heinous and costly. We learned lying to the feds is stupid. We learned that leaving voice mails with the mob is stupid.

And oh yes, we learned that athletes are human. They’re they’re far from perfect. Like the rest of us.

Other than that, I’m not sure if I’m getting my money’s worth.

Legal experts are scratching their heads over the recent indictment of Barry Bonds for perjury and obstruction of justice. Four years after he testified before a federal grand jury called to “investigate” the use of steroids in baseball, saying he did not knowingly use performance enhancing drugs, what do they know that they did not know a few months ago when he was chasing Hank Aaron?

Is this just a case of the feds having to show something for their four years in our pockets?

What is their motivation? And what purpose has been served this year – besides saving the lives of who knows how many dogs; a worthy feat in my book – by their high-profile chases?

If you’ve been reading me for awhile you know I loathe conspiracy theorists. But you’ve got to wonder if it’s the only logical card to play after Bonds was singled out (and let’s stop fooling ourselves, this has all been about Bonds from the beginning) and after looking at the hue of most of the high-profile targets of their efforts this year.

The Feds: Sportsmen of the Year.

Congrats, fellas.

Now, go away.

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Marion Jones: Liar

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I thought it was flaxseed oil. Thanks to Marion Jones, that line is destined to go down in sports infamy. (It’s not nearly as good as the all-time got-busted line uttered by another Marion: The B—- set me up!” But we’ll take it.) That’s what Jones says she told federal authorities years ago when asked if she’d taken “the clear,” a performance-enhancing drug. Yesterday the Washington Post told us what we long suspected. Now, she says she was lying.

And it’s sad. Today, Jones poured her heart out to the feds in White Plains, NY. She said she lied to them about taking “the clear” prior to the 2000 Olympics, and lied to them about her role in a check-cashing-money laundering scheme hatched by her former coach Trevor Graham.

It was sad, really. She was so beautiful on the track. She was the first runner who made you watch since Florence Griffith Joyner. I met MJ a few times, and each time she seemed a bit of a contradiction. She was a gifted competitor, no doubt. But she also seemed extremely vulnerable. Easily influenced.

When I think of the men on her life – Graham, Tim Montgomery (the father of her son), her former husband disgraced shot putter C.J. Hunter and others – I envision a woman who embraced then listened to all the wrong voices.

Clearly she should not be absolved for her actions. She’ll return to court on January 11 and be sentenced for today’s confessions. She could get six months in prison, or more. The International Olympic Committee has reportedly said it would ask Jones to return the five medals she won in Sydney.

In a tearful public confession today, Jones said we had “every right” to be mad at her. She also said she would retire from track & field.

I’m more sad than mad.

But perhaps this is the beginning of the end for the lying. To me, that’s worse that the drug use itself. Athletes in various sports have simply been lying to us. They’ve not only comprised their sport but they’ve lied. I hope MJ gets the minimum sentence – if any sentence at all. Instead,laud her for being the first superstar athlete in what is clearly the Steroid Era in sports to tell the truth.

Maybe others will follow. Tell the truth so we can all begin to move on