No More Dauphins, Please

AP/Michael Conroy

Photo: AP/Michael Conroy

I don’t necessarily mean to tear apart either Jim Caldwell or Jim Mora the Younger on their ascensions to head coach status with the Indianapolis Colts and Seattle Seahawks, respectively, in order to replace Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren. Whether they are the right choices for their franchises will be borne out next season.

What I’m going to angle at again is that succession plans, as far as head coaching goes, and never mind the sport, are shit. More often than not, when a coach leaves, even voluntarily, there are fundamental aspects that need to change in the operation of the product on the field that aren’t meant to be kept. You can see this by the sheer fact that Mora is getting rid of coaches and bringing in new guys, but this happens after an underachieving season.

The question is: does ensuring continuity paper over bigger problems? Entirely possible. Let’s use Mora first: he was the secondary coach and assistant head coach last season, one in which the Seahawks secondary wasn’t all that great (although everyone on that damn team was hurt.) This is just a mild example.  As for the Colts, this isn’t Caldwell-specific, but it’s troubling — the defense bled just enough again to keep them from advancing. What, or whom, does Caldwell bring to the table to fix this?  Should Jim Irsay and Bill Polian have looked around at the multitudes in the head coaching market to see if they had the right approach to address this problem?

Only time will tell whether the dauphin approach truly works, but on its face, it seems like it’s asking for more turbulence rather than real continuity.

(When I’d previously tackled the “coach-in-waiting” thing, it had to do with colleges and the minority coaches issue. It doesn’t apply here: an exemption in the Rooney Rule allows assistants to be promoted to head coach if it is written into their contracts.)

Full Of Sound And Fury

jaymariotti

So, it’s mildly amusing that AOL decided to take one of the most universally loathed sportswriters and give him a platform. I don’t know what drove the decision to hire Jay Mariotti for AOL Sports other than the desire for what I’ve personally called “The Rush Effect”*: people will click to be outraged at what he writes, but since page views are what matter, it will be a success either way, no matter how blatantly wrong he is.

In my original note about Mariotti’s debut at Awful Announcing on Sunday, I snarked about Jason Whitlock, which, in retrospect, isn’t exactly fair to Whitlock for a couple reasons:

  1. Whitlock, from what I can tell, has a fanbase.
  2. He also is right on occasion. Rare, but that’s better than Mariotti’s ratio.

Now, everyone is weighing in: Brian followed up at AA in the AM, MODI is calling for people to speak out forcefully at SOMM, and Deadspin’s Rick Chandler employed some good old fashioned snark and mockery.  After reading his introductory column, with some fashionable talk about how behind the newspaper world is (predictable) and spoiling a movie ending (yes, everyone could probably guess that the dog bites it in the end, but that’s still bad form), he goes into some victimhood:

I resigned after the Games with a calm, professional letter, a decision that came mere months after I’d signed a contract extension. I guess I hurt some feelings. The boys called me a “rat,” forgetting those 5,000 columns through the years. They accused me of using Beijing as vacation time (“Hey, kids, let’s ditch Hawaii and hang out in a Communist country.”). They let a few staff writers, who should focus on doing better work, react with rage reminiscent of Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.” All because I handed back about a million bucks and wanted something more.

Well, I don’t know. I suppose that if you happen to take potshots in print and on TV at professional athletes and their coaches without daring to set foot in locker rooms any longer, the beat writers and columnists who do might be tired of taking shit aimed at you. When your paper uses your resignation to ramp up a subscriber drive, you might want to consider where your ego ran off the rails.

Jay, bless him, does no such thing.

I’m working for a company, AOL, that attracted 54 million unique visitors to its programming content sites in November and ranks fourth in traffic among Internet news sites. As established writers keep moving Web-ward, it will cause consternation among a few members of the sports blogosphere, some of whom think they own the Internet when, as everyone knows, Bill Kurtis owns the Internet. I’ve never bought into this “mainstream media vs. bloggers” blood war because, in my mind, we’re all writers. The best young writers provide compelling takes on sports. The losers wake up each day and attack (choose your ESPN target), an approach that can’t attract much audience beyond a few neurotic souls in sports media. Now hear this: I’m a bit too busy to hate bloggers or, really, anyone but terrorists and certain Illinois politicians. I just think they should be writing about Steve Smith, not Stephen A. Smith.

Well, we would, Jay, and happily, but the problem is that you, Stephen A. Smith, and many others have gone past the point of no return — you, through your writing, TV appearances, etc., in which you spout off, define the prism of sports for so many people and propagate coverage that makes the writers, reporters, and pundits as news-worthy as the athletes.

The angles taken by big-box columnists in an out-dated 80s narrative style and the focus of ESPN in paying more attention to athlete misdeeds (with a racial double standard to boot) is only part of what makes sports media an unwelcome part of the news when it comes to sports. A monopoly by one network is part of it, but when Ed Werder can take a completely anonymous sourced report and foment two weeks of Terrell Owens nuttiness, ESPN can ignore the civil suit against Brian Giles of abuse filed by an ex (along with the video), and when all sports websites run wire stories about athletes getting fucking parking tickets, of all things, sports media is as much a part of writing about sport as the competitions themselves.

Mariotti’s wishful thinking is just that — and a refusal to accept responsibility for the things he’s written before. The irony of all of it? His first full column is about Charles Barkley and his DUI, calling him “An American Idiot.”

You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t bother reading.

(*Named after Rush Limbaugh, naturally. I never understood why he had such a large audience as a kid. There are reliable conservatives, but I sense there are plenty of liberals listening just to hear the outrageous bullshit he’ll spout next.)

Packers Hire Smarmy White House Hack

Boy, this just gets more and more amusing: we are sent to a Fox Sports report from Jay Glazer that the Packers have hired former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and his Fleischer Sports Communications to work with the players on handling the media, with some obvious attention being paid to the Brett Favre saga that just will not go away. (Hat tips to Pro Football Talk and the Big Lead.)

According to an Associated Press report, Fleischer met with Packers players Thursday, but the meeting was scheduled several weeks ago, before the Favre controversy flared up. The report also said while Fleischer didn’t focus on how players should handle the Favre situation, the topic was discussed.

“Obviously it’s a topic, and it wasn’t ignored,” Fleischer told the AP in a phone interview Thursday.

Unfortunately, this is a touch too late for damage control by the Packers organization. No one could have predicted the return of Favre and he is being hailed by Green Bay fans. Reports have Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy considering a preemptive strike against the Detroit Lions in order to distract from their handling of the unexpected attack by Favre. Plus, as Fleischer said later, “What the heck are we going to get out of invading Hattiesburg, Mississippi? There’s isn’t a damn thing there.”

(Invasions of Soldier Field and the Metrodome were considered, but decided against because the populations there and their defenders would be much more difficult to take down; management decided to wait until scheduled trips in the fall.)

However, if that is the case, we can universally assume that the up-ending of the Matt Millen regime by outside occupiers will be viewed as liberators, particularly the contingent prone to bringing “Fire Millen” signs to games and tailgates.

Packers hire Fleischer to consult on Favre saga [Fox Sports]
Packers Hire Ari Fleischer [Pro Football Talk]
Packers Hire Ari Fleischer – I’m Not Kidding [The Big Lead]

If You Are Surprised By This, Raise Your Hand So I Can Laugh At You

Remember that promise China gave the International Olympic Committee about members of the media having the same Internet access they had at prior Olympic Games in Beijing this year? How many of you thought that was actually going to be kept?

Good, because — surprise — not only are there sites (coughcoughAmnestyInternationalcough) that media members can’t access, it turns out that the IOC just copped to striking a deal with the Chinese government to allow them to block those particular sites and some pages. The Wikipedia entry on the Tianamen Square protests being one , and in a more amusing sense, Fire Joe Morgan is another. Apparently, one-party rule frowns on the concept of VORP, as one person is no more valuable than another in Communist countries.

I hate to double link to work I’ve done somewhere else in one day, but this is part and parcel with the debate over whether athletes ought to speak out in this sense: the IOC’s pretense about the ideal of athletic competition is about as flimsy (if not more so) than the NCAA’s use of the “student-athlete” mask for Division I revenue sports.

Jacques Rogge and his organization handed over an Olympic Games to a country with severe human rights violations on its record, horrific levels of air pollution, and limited speech and press rights. They did so with no concern for any promises that China made outside of getting the facilities prepared on time, because this is about money: making it for the IOC through its advertising and TV broadcasting rights fees, and tapping into one of the world’s most populous nations — at a cost of obvious credibility regarding the organization’s own charter.

You can only say that these games will force China to open itself up on so many times before there has to be some proof. This is the latest in a series of less than encouraging developments regarding Beijing and the Olympics; I doubt it will be the last we have when the Games end.

Olympic organisers agree to China blocking ‘sensitive’ Internet sites [Times UK]
Hu Jintao Does Not Care For OPS+ [Rocky Mountain News]
A Journalistic Highlight [Fire Joe Morgan]
Should Olympians Be Compelled To Protest In Beijing? [BallHype]

Jason Whitlock Wants To Put Allen Iverson In A Burqa

I’ve read some dumb, lazy excuses for columns before, but I’m pretty damn sure this might take the cake. Jason Whitlock essentially says a factor in the increased ratings for the NBA playoffs is the lack of tattoos on the Lakers, Spurs, Pistons, and Celtics, at least compared to Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, et al. Never mind the fact that you really can’t prove this, it’s just ridiculously moronic.

The only accurate way to describe Garnett, Pierce, Duncan, Allen, Manu, Parker and even Kobe is “clean cut.” Yeah, there are a couple of tattoos in that group — Duncan has something on his back, Kobe still has his post-rape-allegation tat — but the Lakers, Spurs and Celtics have far less ink on average than your typical NBA franchise.

Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony have more tats on their hands than the entire Spurs roster.

I know many of you probably think the number of tattoos doesn’t influence viewing habits. You’re wrong. Like everything else televised, appearances matter. There’s a reason you don’t see nude scenes in movies with fat people. Trust me, fat people have sex. It’s just no one wants to see it. Not even fat people.

Wait. So tattoos on athletes are as ugly and repulsive as fat people having sex on TV? Someone tell Sports Illustrated — their cover story is on a guy who’s got 26 tattoos all over his body. His name just happens to be Josh Hamilton, and he’s the dynamite CF for the Texas Rangers. Guess that’ll hurt magazine sales.

No one wants to watch Delonte West or Larry Hughes play basketball. It’s uncomfortable and disconcerting. You don’t want your kids to see it. You don’t want your kids to think they should decorate their neck, arms, hands, chest and legs in paint. You don’t want to waste time explaining to your kids that some millionaire athletes have so little genuine self-confidence that they find it necessary to cover themselves in tattoos as a way to mask their insecurities.

No one wants to watch Delonte West or Larry Hughes play basketball because they are often very bad at it. They are pro hoops players, which means they are much better than the rest of us, but compared to some of their peers, they have flashes of total suck often when they play.  No one wants to watch West or Hughes jack up ill-advised shots everyone knows they’re not going to make.

It’s not because of the tattoos on their arms. It’s because of the bad plays they make more frequently than their peers.

It’s a television show. Pleasant smiles, non-threatening people sell products better than menacing, tattooed brutes.

If I was David Stern, I’d commission Nike and/or Under Armor to create a basketball jersey with long sleeves, all the way down to the wrists. I’d make Iverson wear a turtleneck jersey with sleeves. I’d cover the tats.

Jason Whitlock, our own one-man American Sporting Taliban.  Cover his legs too. Give Iverson, Anthony, West, and Hughes a burqa when they report next season. Make Chris Douglas-Roberts know he’s got to put one on when he signs his rookie deal. It’s the only way to not offend a constituency that we’re not sure exists!  Ayatollah Whitlock has decreed this fatwa, effective this 29th of May, in the year 2008.

Do you think Sports Illustrated would let its swimsuit models cover themselves in tattoos? Models are paid to look good. Athletes are no different from models. Everyone accepts that female basketball players — when possible — are pushed to showcase their feminine beauty.

Athletes are no different than models. Nice. Just because we accept it doesn’t mean it’s right, Jason. Also, SI has no problem with tattoos on athletes now — please see Josh Hamilton again.

It’s unfortunate that too many young athletes are too unenlightened to approach the game like a business. They resist almost all ideas that would put more money in their pockets. They have to be forced to do the little things that would help them make more money.

Growing NBA ratings is what’s best for the players in the long term. Adopting a non-prison-ready appearance would help everyone in the league earn more money. But no one will talk about it.

Yeah, because no one wants to come off looking like an unenlightened, 19th century-living moron who doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. And let’s not mistake the construction of this: They have to be forced to do the little things that would help them make more money. It’s more than a little fascist sounding, isn’t it?  At the very least, it’s horrifically condescending to treat grown men like this. I know what’s best for you and will make you more money.

Whitlock is happy to judge a book by its cover and say that because someone else does it, the book has to be completely re-written.

So The Guy You Demoted Is Now Good Enough?

I know, I know; I don’t post much about hockey around these parts, never mind the fact that I’ve watched the majority of the Stanley Cup playoffs this year without regret (except for suffering through the Avalanche getting swept by the Red Wings.) However, when the team you still have an attachment to decides to fuck up so egregiously when it comes to coach selection, attention must be paid.

So, yeah, I’m a little less than thrilled about the Avalanche digging back into the well and bringing back Tony Granato to coach the team again, four years after he stepped aside to be an assistant to Joel Quenneville after two years as the head man. It’s not that Granato can’t coach, but he had two very loaded teams to work with in his years as the head coach (Sakic, Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne, Rob Blake, Milan Hejduk) and went 9-9 in the playoffs, with a particularly memorable exit to the Wild after taking a 3-1 lead in the series.

Do Pierre Lacroix and Francis Giguere really think Granato is the future coach of the organization in the long-term, or do they want a company man who doesn’t make waves? Because I really can’t understand how bringing back Granato takes a team with a good veteran core and some talented younger players and elevates them to a Western Conference Finals or Stanley Cup final, never mind winning the whole thing again. I’m not even really sure whom they could have or should have hired to replace Quenneville — all I can tell is that this is really just asking for regression.

How much longer until Patrick Roy’s done coaching his sons in juniors, anyway?

Photo: AP/David Zalubowski

Full Of Sound And Fury, Signifying Everything

(Video via Awful Announcing.)

Everyone’s up in arms today over last night’s Costas Now, in which Will Leitch basically fended off H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger and Bob Costas as they ranted about blogging’s abusive tone and profane writing.  Bissinger’s particular diatribe reeks of a noxious sort of desperation, one that a writer of his talent should never have had to feel so insecure as to express on television.

Blogs are basically a means of open expression, whether used for journalism, comedy, or opinion, and this applies to the sports world.  I am mystified by folks like Bissinger, Costas, and MIchael Wilbon, who seem to be threatened by the medium, considering it part of the downfall of society (how amusing is this hyperbole when it rolls around every decade or so from a generation that cannot stand to see a loss in power, anywhere?) when, by all accounts, the methods and medium of journalism will change dramatically in the upcoming decades, but quality writers and journalists will always be in demand.  This misconception of blogs seeking to “replace” the mainstream media in any form is absolutely ludicrous and really ought to be nipped in the bud.

I can only speak for myself now — as this particular blog is little more than a means to express opinion based on what I watch on TV.  No, my opinion isn’t any more valid than the beat reporter or columnist; I’m a 25-year old liberal arts major whose only print journalism/sportswriting experience is a stint on the high school newspaper.  That’s not why I write about sports or participate in discussions about them online. I don’t think my opinion is any more or less valid than yours. I do it because it’s fun, and it’s part of the interaction of being a fan. Do I (and others) get profane? Yes, although I make an effort to avoid abusive.

The irony of Bissinger’s missive and Costas’ ploy to paint the Internet as a massive repository for the basest impulses of people online is that there are oh so many folks, in print and on your television on a regular basis, who have the capacity and have been more abusive and profane towards athletes than any blogger ever could — and with a significantly larger audience than Deadspin could attract on even its best stats day.  Skip Bayless, Mike Lupica, Mitch Albom (how ironic is it to have the sports world’s Jayson Blair lecture about the ethics of sports journalism on TV; it’s as if everyone forgot he faked a column), Bill Conlin (some pleasant language used towards sabermetric-loving folks), Wallace Matthews (Mr. “15 is the new 30” in trying to brush off Clemens-McCready), and damn near every columnist, commentator, and pundit who gives credence to Roger Clemens yet would not dare give Barry Bonds the benefit of the doubt.

Also include Leonard Shapiro and the talk radio blowhards who gave two cents to the concept that Sean Taylor’s past off-the-field troubles had something to do with his death last year, when he really was protecting his family. Jason Whitlock’s entire oeuvre about the Black KKK, his double-speak and hypocrisy about hip-hop and the misogyny and violence in rap affecting athletes deserves special mention.

Add in every columnist who employs a mindset that allows him or her to slap a thug label on the majority of the NBA because players have tattoos and some even dare to have cornrows or dreadlocks, and who blanches at every incident of violence on the court as a sign that the league as a whole is out of control.

If you don’t mind me saying so, that’s a fuck of a lot of profanity and abuse heaped on by those supposed guardians of the Right Way of doing things.  Glass houses, stones, throwing….right, you know the deal.

Takes on the program: Both Will and AJ from Deadspin, Orson at EDSBS, Brian at Awful Announcing, D-Wil at Sports on My Mind (who agrees with Bissinger), FJM’s Ken Tremendous, The FanHouse’s Michael David Smith, and BDD at KSK (yes, vulgar and profane).