Sports

Surviving the Watercooler after the 2015 NFL Conference Championships

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It’s been too long since I’ve done a Surviving the Watercooler post, but I promise people will be talking about yesterday’s games for more than just next week. If you haven’t read a StW post before, my goal is to help make certain people who don’t follow sports all that closely, or didn’t watch these particular games, are able to keep up with the office gossip and speculation come Tuesday morning. It was nice to have MLK day give me an extra day to get this post up.

AFC Championship: New England Patriots vs. Indianapolis Colts

Quick Primer: This game was pretty awful to watch. There was a slight glimmer of hope for the Colts when they were down 14-0 and intercepted Brady. It was only 17-7 at half time, but then the Patriots scored touchdowns on their first four second half possessions. The 45-7 final score accurately reflects just how one sided this whole affair was. It was the second game of the day and quite the letdown after how exciting the NFC title game was, but more on that in a bit.

Useful Saying: (Insert any one of a hundred ‘beating a dead horse’ jokes)

Response if someone else says that: Haha, I get it! It’s because the team that lost has a mascot that is a horse and the game was a blowout. It’s a joke! I get jokes. It isn’t actually the biggest blowout in AFC championship game history, that would be Buffalo’s 51-3 win over the LA Raiders in 1990. It was still an ugly game though.

Useful Saying: Tom Brady is now without a doubt the GOAT(greatest of all time)

Response if someone else says that: Getting tough to argue against that. Even though this game wasn’t against Peyton Manning, it was still a statement to soundly destroy the team that just beat Manning’s team on their home field. Brady will be the first quarterback to start six superbowls and by himself now has the same number of playoff wins(19) as the entire Philadelphia Eagles franchise.

Useful Saying: Bill Belichick’s status as a Sith Lord is now confirmed. Can you believe he ran up the score like that?

Response if someone else says that: They’re all pro athletes so a 45-7 score in the NFL isn’t quite the same as a 161-2 highschool girl’s basketball game(yes, that also happened last week).[1] I also can’t really criticize Belichick for keeping his foot on the gas pedal by keeping his starters in and going for it on fourth down when the Packers lost precisely because they didn’t do that. Speaking of the Packers…

NFC Championship game: Seattle Seahawks vs. Green Bay Packers

Quick Primer: Six turnovers in the first half, a fake field goal, a comeback including an onside kick, two lead changes in the last minute and a half, questionable coaching decisions, players staying on the field with one functional arm, and overtime all in one game? What I’m trying to say is that I can’t write a quick primer for this. Anything I type will be woefully inaccurate. The incredibly short version is the Packers jumped out to a 16-0 lead and had a 19-7 lead with five minutes left in the game but still found a way to let the Seahawks take the lead and win in overtime.

Useful Saying: HOLY CRAP WHAT A GAME!

Response if someone else says that: I KNOW RIGHT!?!?

Useful Saying: Seriously, the Seahawks managed to overcome five turnovers, scored 15 points in the last five minutes which needed both a successful onside kick and a two point conversion, had their other points come from a fake field goal that went for a touchdown, and had Sherman out there with an injured elbow and he managed to use just one arm to defend Jordy Nelson. They deserved to win this game.

Response if someone else says that: They certainly deserved the win, BUT it shouldn’t have been within their reach to begin with. The Packers had 4th & 1 from Seattle’s 1 yard line twice in the first quarter and came away with a field goal each time. How you only score 16 points off five turnovers might be a testament to the other team’s defense, but I also think it shows fear on Green Bay’s part. These two teams played the first week of the season and Rodgers didn’t even attempt a pass towards the side of the field Sherman was covering. I think McCarthy(the Head Coach for the Packers) was scared and desperately wanted any points he could get, not thinking about the fact that he has a top five running back who averages 4.6 yards per carry. You don’t let the defending champions continue to think they have a chance in their own building. You need to go for a knockout punch and Green Bay wouldn’t do it. This is also why I mentioned I can’t criticize Belichick for his actions in the other game.

Useful Saying: Well when you put it that way McCarthy should be fired!

Response if someone else says that: Hold up. He’s got a 94-49 record, not counting his 7-6 mark in the playoffs, since taking over in 2006. He has five division titles, seven playoff appearances, and a superbowl title in that time. Do I think he got completely out coached by Pete Carroll again? Yes, but before you talk about replacing him look at another team in the NFC North. Lovie Smith got fired from Chicago after going 81-63(10-6 in the year he was fired) and now that team can best be compared to a dumpster fire…a large dumpster fire…a large dumpster filled with tires and dog hair all of which is on fire. It isn’t like there are a plethora of qualified head coaches looking for jobs right now and if you fire McCarthy I can guarantee you’ll feel awful watching him succeed elsewhere.

Preliminary Superbowl Prediction: Please note at this time last year on this blog I was picking Denver to beat Seattle and we remember how well that went. With that said, my early lean is Seattle. I always fear a team that has faced adversity and still pulled it out. A lot will depend on the couple injuries Seattle suffered during the win over the Packers, and I don’t think either team will blow out the other. I want to emphasize this is a lean and there are many good cases to be made for a Patriots superbowl here. As long as it’s a better game than last year I’ll be happy.

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

 

NFL Week 2: What Did He Know and When Did He Know It

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I posted my summation of the Ray Rice story early Monday morning, and not three hours later there were several major developments and they continue to roll in. First of all Ray Rice has been both indefinitely suspended by the NFL and cut by the Baltimore Ravens. The indefinite suspension from the league office means even if another team wanted to pick him up he would need to be reinstated by the league office. The league has also started a buyback program for Ray Rice jerseys, Nike has cut its contract with Ray Rice, and EA has released an update removing Ray Rice from the Madden ’15 video game.

As a brief side note on the indefinite suspension punishment, commissioner Roger Goodell is being heavily criticized for the additional inconsistency of first suspending Rice for two games, then setting down the policy a first offence would be six games, then suspending Rice indefinitely. There clearly is still no set stance as far as punishment from the league is concerned. Some people will be punished only after the courts have decided, some before, and all with severity only determined by public/sponsor outcry and not grounded in anything resembling objective criteria.

As I mentioned on Monday the league denied that they had any knowledge of this second tape. I expressed skepticism that the letters TMZ held more legal sway than the letters NFL. Reports released yesterday from The Revel casino said the NFL never asked them for a copy of the tape and they would have been happy to provide one if they had. A law enforcement official has added that the NFL head office was sent a tape on April 9th(meaning the NFL would have seen it before announcing the two game suspension) and there is a voicemail from an NFL office phone number confirming they received the video and saying, “You’re right. It’s terrible.”

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the NFL did have the tape the whole time and still took the actions they have over the past six months. I won’t even venture a guess as to why Goodell attempted a cover up here considering he’s been fine laying down punishments far more severe than the crime in the past. Former FBI director Robert Mueller III has been appointed by the league to investigate the handling of the whole incident so we’ll see what else comes to light.

Sportsbook 101

Moving onto the picks for this week, I realized last week I talked about what betting against the spread actually is, but I need to talk about what the number means with a little more depth. I’m going to continue to use last week’s Green Bay @ Seattle(-6) line. Many people will tell you the handicap(the -6) is supposed to represent the number of points one team would have to spot the other in order for the two teams to be even. So if Seattle started the game at -6 or Green Bay started the game at 6 then the two teams would really be even and that’s what you’re betting on. Although that is how winning and losing bets are determined it isn’t actually what Vegas is implying when it sets a line.

What they mean is that they think the public thinks Seattle is better by 6 points. This sounds confusing until you remember Vegas’s goal isn’t to pick a winner, it is to pick a number that will cause 50% of the public to bet one way and 50% of the public to bet the other. This ensures the winners are paid with the losers money, and Vegas keeps a percentage. If more money is on one side than the other Vegas could lose, but if the money is split that means Vegas is guaranteed to win.

This is important when thinking about a line, especially a line on a team that is currently really popular or unpopular with the public. The public’s perception of a team will move a line one way or the other even if the statistics for a game haven’t changed at all. As an example, often time the public will overreact to an injury. If a star player gets injured that team could suddenly become a huge underdog and the public will bet heavily against them so Vegas can move the line in that direction more than is reasonable. By watching for a trend like that you can wait for the line to move and then bet the other direction.

This concept took me years to start to grasp, so by all means ask questions if I haven’t explained it that well.

Survival Pool

Well my nice safe Eagles pick needed to go down 17-0 before they remembered the season had started. Fortunately they came back, so we’re still in this thing. The number of people remaining in the pool after week 1 is 102. Most eliminations last week were on people picking the Patriots(never take an away team in a divisional matchup as a survivor pick) or the Bears.

Speaking of the Bears, my pick for this week is the 49ers. The 49ers won impressively on the road and the Bears lost embarrassingly at home. Now the 49ers become the home team and Bears become the road team. I’m also not convinced that the Bears head coach has really made the transition to NFL coach. Trestman’s play calling was poor last year and the 49ers coach Harbaugh is one of the best in the business. We’re still in a mode of making as safe a pick as we can until we have more info about the teams.

The two most popular picks from other people right now are the Saints and the Packers. These are both dangerous picks for different reasons. They both lost week 1, so preseason expectations of greatness could be wrong for both teams. The Saints are playing at the Browns. The Saints don’t play as well outdoors and the Browns came very close to executing a big comeback just like the one the Falcons did pull on the Saints. The Packers meanwhile took some rough injuries to their offensive line in the game against Seattle Last week and their opponents(the Jets) strength lies on their defense. Should both the Packers and Saints win? Yes. Am I more confident in the 49ers? Absolutely.

Bets To Actually Make: Last week(1-2) Season(1-2)

I know I promised more analysis this week, but with the Ray Rice recap I’m not interested in taking up too much more of your time.

Miami(-0.5)@Buffalo

Tennessee(-3.5) vsDallas

Arizona(+1.5)@Ney York Giants

Other Picks I’m Not Putting Money On: Last week(8-5) Season(8-5)

Pittsburgh(+2.5)@Baltimore

Atlanta(+5.5)@Cincinatti

Cleveland(+6.5) vs New Orleans

Detroit(+2.5) vs Carolina

Minnesota(+3.5) vs New England

Jacksonville(+5.5)@Washington

Tampa Bay(-5.5) vs St. Louis

Seattle(-5.5)@San Diego

Denver(-13.5) vs Kansas City

New York Jets(+8.5)@Green Bay

Houston(-2.5)@Oakland

San Francisco(-7.5) vs Chicago

Indianapolis(-2.5) vs Philadelphia

I know I’m picking a lot of underdogs, but as I hinted at in my Sportsbook 101 section, bet against public overreaction and there are few times there is more overreaction than week 2 of the NFL season.

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

The Full Ray Rice Elevator Video

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Yesterday was the first Sunday of the NFL season. ESPN, Mad Dog Radio, and other sports based TV and radio shows around the nation would like to open with any one of a dozen story lines. The Eagles scoring 34 unanswered points to comeback and beat the Jaguars, the Cowboys turnover fest against the 49ers, or the Bills OT upset on the road against the Bears are all fine examples of what we could be talking about. It’s all getting pushed off the front page because of a video.

One of the story lines that unfolded during my month hiatus from this blog was Ray Rice’s suspension. In February of this year video was leaked of Baltimore Ravens star running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiance(now wife) from an elevator in an Atlantic City Casino. If you haven’t seen the video the original video, it can be found here.[1]

There was a great deal of debate about what happened inside the elevator. Until today the footage from that camera was kept secret. It was reported at the time by Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Ravens Officials had seen the unreleased footage and it was taken into account when deciding Ray Rice’s punishment of two games.[2] The light sentence has been denounced from every media outlet and the vast majority of fans.

One of the few reasonable defenses of the punishment was that we didn’t know what happened in the elevator. If the fiance attacked him first, he shoved her away, and her head hit the elevator at the wrong angle when both of them were already heavily inebriated, then perhaps the two game suspension was justified. It seemed like a stretch, but if the NFL had seen the video and only given him two games and both Ray Rice and his fiance were charged with aggravated assault then surely there must be something we didn’t know.[3]

It is unclear right now how it was leaked but the footage from inside the elevator has been released. If you don’t want to start your Monday with a video of domestic violence I completely understand, but here is a link to an article that includes the full video.[4] It is quite clear that after they get into the elevator he initiates the physical contact by hitting her and spitting in her face, she then lunges towards him, and he slams her head into the side of the elevator.

It makes the plea deal that was offered to him by the court system and the suspension from the NFL look like the most heinous kind of ridiculous. The NFL has released a statement saying, “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident, including the video from inside the elevator. That video was not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.”[5] I personally find that statement tough to believe and I’ll side with Peter King’s reporting over the NFL trying to cover its ass. It also seems odd that TMZ was able to obtain a copy of it if the NFL really had it withheld from them.

The only positive thing to come out of this is that the outrage after the two game suspension was announced has prompted the NFL to change its policy on domestic abuse. It is now a mandatory 6 game suspension on a first offense and a lifetime ban from the league for a second offense. This change in policy will be put to the test soon. A rookie practice squad player on the Jets and a defensive tackle on the 49ers have both been arrested for domestic abuse in the last two weeks. Obviously there is a difference between being arrested for something and being convicted for it, but the NFL has not required convictions to enact discipline in the past. Ben Roethlisberger’s six game suspension in 2010 when he wasn’t even charged with rape is a prime example.

Plenty of people have criticized the stricter domestic abuse policy because it seems the NFL only changed it because people were angry, not because they actually feel remorse over a bad decision or care for their players especially when it comes to other serious crimes like DUIs. Considering there are players playing in the NFL now who have killed other NFL players in DUI crashes(Josh Brent still plays for the Cowboys[6], it’s easy to see the point that the NFL’s punishment system as a whole needs revamping. It’s good that the NFL is changing, but a little proactive work as opposed to simply being responsive would be nice. An ounce of prevention equaling a pound of cure and what not.

As far as the NFL rules go, I don’t think the league can go back and amend the penalty since it has already been handed down. The Ravens organization does still have power though. The team didn’t punish him at all, everything came down from the league and teams are allowed to add punishment on top of what the NFL issues even though they usually don’t. The Ravens could choose to cut him or to suspend him for the remainder of the season.

I’m guessing the Ravens might add four games to the suspension. It would make Rice’s total suspension equal to the 6 games now required for first time offenders. I would be surprised if they do anything more serious because Ray Rice makes that football team a lot of money, and that is the issue that really lies at the heart of most of this. If you are a rich celebrity in this country your justice system is separate and not equal.

If the Ravens really do add to the suspension and make it six games, and I’m not saying they will, then Ray Rice’s first game back would come in the middle of October, a month the NFL has set aside for several years now to raise breast cancer awareness by having their players wear pink gear like gloves and shoes. To have Ray Rice’s first football game this season be in gear designed by the NFL to show women in this country that the NFL cares about them would certainly make the NFL’s real motives in such matters crystal clear.

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

 

 

NFL Week 1: Journey of 1,000 Miles

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Well it’s been a long time since I’ve posted and it’s been a long time since the superbowl. These two things aren’t related, my lack of posts has more to do with me feeling like this rabbit the last month or so:

There’s been tons happening in the world and I’m hoping this post will get me back on track. So what will this post be you might ask? A quick primer to football gambling and my picks for the season. I won’t be doing a full season preview post because I think trying to predict a superbowl winner at the start of the season is an exercise in laughable futility.

Most football bets are played ‘against the spread'(ATS). Tonight’s game is Green Bay at Seattle(-6). The -6 is the point spread, it could also be read as Green Bay(+6) instead of Seattle(-6). The spread means you aren’t just interested in who wins, but also by how much. Whichever way you want to read the spread, either +6 or -6, you apply that to the final score. If you bet Seattle(-6) and the final score is Green Bay 21 Seattle 24, you would lose your bet because you’d have to subtract 6 from Seattle’s final score, in which case Green Bay would win 21-18. It often confuses people to start with that the negative number is put next to the team that is the favorite, but that’s the way it is.

My picks come in three pieces. The first piece is my survival pool pick. A survival pool is when you just make one pick per week and you can’t pick the same team twice in one season. Once you lose one game you are eliminated. Next will be the games I would actually recommend you bet on, and finally I’ll list what way I would go on the other games although I have substantially less confidence on those.

Survival Pool

Week 1 is always dangerous in a survival pool because you don’t have much info on what the teams are going to be like this year. Two rules become crucial here, try to avoid picking a road team and try to avoid picking a divisional matchup. Weird things happen when a team is on the road and even weirder things happen when two divisional rivals are facing off.

It’s the biggest Vegas favorite of the week, and I certainly don’t feel like taking a gamble with my whole season week 1, so I’m picking the Eagles to beat the Jaguars. One of last season’s worst teams on the road against an Eagles team that was looking better and better as the season progressed. Seems like a safe way to ease into the season.

Bets To Actually Make

I apologize because in the future there will be substantially more analysis but I want to get this up before kick off.

Green Bay@Seattle(-6)

Aaron Rodgers and company go to Seattle and even though it was 2 years ago the infamous Fail Mary is going to be replayed so often before tonight’s game it will be quite fresh. The running game is really going to be what keeps this game close though. Seattle was great against the pass but only ok against the run and Green Bay’s running back Eddie Lacy is going to wrack up some yards tonight. I don’t think Green Bay wins outright, but people tend to overrate the defending super bowl champ and I think the packers keep it close. Green Bay(+6)

Oakland@New York Jets(-4.5)

Neither of these teams were great last year, but only one has a reasonable defense. A west coast team traveling three time zones for an early start game also tends to go poorly for the visitors. Rex Ryan also knows this is really his last year to try to do something with the Jets before he’s likely to end up on the hot seat and this first game of the season is one he can really make a statement in because the shoddiness of the Raiders. New York Jets(-4.5)

Carolina(-1.5)@Tampa Bay

Carolina over performed last year when several of the other teams in their division fell off the map unexpectedly. Tampa went through a coaching change midway through the season and had an outbreak of MRSA in their locker room. They’re poised to make a much bigger splash this year including a win at home against a division rival to start their season. What I said in the survival pool section also applies here. When there is a home underdog in a divisional game, history says take the points. Tampa Bay(+1.5)

Other Picks I’m Not Putting Money On

New Orleans(+1.5) over Atlanta

Chicago(-6.5) over Buffalo

Cleveland(+5.5) over Pittsburgh

Kansas City(-6.5) over Tennessee

Minnesota(+6.5) Over St. Louis

Miami(+3.5) over New England

Philadelphia(-11) over Jacksonville

Houston(-2.5) over Washington

San Francisco(-4.5) over Dallas

Denver(-6.5) over Indianapolis

Detroit(-4.5) over New York Giants

Arizona(-3.5) over San Diego

 

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

I Believe That We Will Win…People (and Ann Coulter) Over From Hyperbole

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Over the course of the World Cup the United States has found itself going through a wide range of emotions that includes actually caring about soccer. Now that the US has made a memorable exit, will the nation continue to pay attention to the world’s beautiful game? Will we give it a red card or has it scored a mighty equalizer in our hearts? The question of soccer’s popularity has been written about for decades in imaginative, coherent, and interesting ways, but we’ll also look at Ann Coulter’s perspective.

Some quick numbers for perspective on the US’s world cup ratings: the US-Portugal match was the highest with 18.2 million viewers(largely because it was on a Sunday evening), ESPN has reported a 44% jump in viewers over the 2010 world cup, and overall is averaging four million views over the 56 broadcasts of world cup matches.[1] The super bowl this year had 108.7 million, the NBA championship averaged 17.7 million per game, the World Series averaged 14.9 million per game, and the Stanley cup averaged 5.8 million per game.[2]

A direct comparison doesn’t really work because we can look at things like the 32 million views of Usain Bolt’s 100 meter dash in the Olympics and realize that is a special event that takes place every four years and doesn’t translate into track becoming six times as popular as hockey in the US. Major League Soccer in the US has had slowly shrinking TV ratings since 1996 with small spikes after world cups with the trend returning to normal within a year.[3] World Cup ratings haven’t translated into MLS ratings in the past, and there isn’t anything really to indicate this cycle will be different.

Quite a bit has been made of a recent ESPN poll which has MLS tying MLB in popularity among 12-17 year olds.[4] These results are being interpreted as further proof that the oncoming tide of soccer popularity is irresistible. The first problem with that is that poll didn’t measure viewership it measured what you’re a fan of and it turned out that many of the 12-17 year olds had never watched soccer, they just liked the FIFA video game. This isn’t the first time people have looked at youth popularity and extrapolated guaranteed adult growth down the road.

Chuck Klosterman has an excellent essay in Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs about why the popularity of kids playing soccer(we even have the term soccer mom) has never translated into adulthood. His theory is that kids feel pressured to pick a sport and that soccer is the safest to play for kids who don’t like sports. It doesn’t have the individual pressure moments that come with baseball and basketball. He states that it is the outcasts who choose to play soccer and that, “Outcasts may grow up to be novelists and filmmakers and computer tycoons, but they will never be the athletic ruling class.”

I want to be clear, I’d love to see soccer become more popular in this country. I’d love many sports to become more popular in this country: curling, handball, rugby, water polo, jai-alai, and others. There are amazing sports in the world and to limit ourselves to the big four in this country is culturally anemic. I just see a lot of people stating that soccer has hit a tipping point with this world cup and I’m not necessarily convinced. At a bare minimum the popularity of the World Cup is increasing and I would never imply of the people watching the world cup that, “100% R unatheletic [sic] journalists,” or that a possible increase in soccer popularity is, “a sign of the nation’s moral decay.”

Both of those quotes are from columnist and professional agitator Ann Coulter. Her column on June 25th was published between the US’s Portugal and Germany matches. It can only be called journalism in the most generous definition of the word and although I’d normally consider her columns to be well outside my overton window, I can’t resist the overlap of sports and politics so pardon my as I put on rubber gloves to handle the material involved in the rest of this article. Many of the arguments she puts forward are pretty common arguments against soccer, so it is worth a rebuttal. I will not link to her article directly because I’m not interested in her getting more Google hits, I will be block quoting pieces of her article, but if you search ‘Ann Coulter soccer’ you can find the whole thing.

I’ve held off on writing about soccer for a decade — or about the length of the average soccer game — so as not to offend anyone. But enough is enough. Any growing interest in soccer can only be a sign of the nation’s moral decay.

She doesn’t say whether she thinks soccer is too long or too short. Judging by the rest of the article hammering the fact she thinks soccer is boring, I’m assuming she means soccer is too long. If that’s the case, the average NFL game is three hours, six minutes, and 58 seconds. The US’s matches against Ghana, Portugal, and Germany barely brushed two thirds of that.

(1) Individual achievement is not a big factor in soccer. In a real sport, players fumble passes, throw bricks and drop fly balls — all in front of a crowd. When baseball players strike out, they’re standing alone at the plate. But there’s also individual glory in home runs, touchdowns and slam-dunks.

This is particularly hilarious considering the US-Belgium match in which US keeper Tim Howard broke a record for saves that had stood in the World Cup for over 50 years. The wikipedia page for the US was briefly altered so that Tim Howard was listed as the Secretary of Defense. There were also the multiple storylines about how the US would have a better chance if our injured star Jozy Altidore played. Individual achievement played as big a factor on Tuesday as it does any given Sunday.

(2) Liberal moms like soccer because it’s a sport in which athletic talent finds so little expression that girls can play with boys.

If you want to argue soccer is boring, alright there is no accounting for taste, but to claim soccer takes no athletic talent is just bizarre. The average soccer player runs between 7.5-9 miles per game. Compare that to 2.72 miles for basketball, 1.25 miles for wide receivers in football, or half a mile for baseball.[5]

(3) No other “sport” ends in as many scoreless ties as soccer. If Michael Jackson had treated his chronic insomnia with a tape of Argentina vs. Brazil instead of Propofol, he’d still be alive, although bored. Even in football, by which I mean football, there are very few scoreless ties.

Suicide jokes go great in sports pieces, but she digresses. In football the 1985 Chicago Bears are considered one of(if not the) greatest team of all time. They are known for their defense. Arena football also has higher scores than the NFL. In fact there has never been a shutout in the history of the Arena Football League, yet somehow the NFL is still more popular despite being lower scoring. Bowling also has higher numbers than any NFL or Arena game ever has, but Ann Coulter’s grip on number’s connection with reality is proven in her next point,

(4) The prospect of either personal humiliation or major injury is required to count as a sport. Most sports are sublimated warfare. Baseball and basketball present a constant threat of personal disgrace. In hockey, there are three or four fights a game.

Plenty of people dismiss Ann Coulter because of her purposefully inflammatory language. I don’t see any reason to do that when she can be dismissed on a purely factual basis. Last year the NHL had .38 fights per game. In fact 70.24% of NHL games had exactly zero fights in them.[6] It’s easy to make an argument when you simply inflate the real numbers by over 1,000%

(5) You can’t use your hands in soccer. (Thus eliminating the danger of having to catch a fly ball.) What sets man apart from the lesser beasts, besides a soul, is that we have opposable thumbs. Our hands can hold things. Here’s a great idea: Let’s create a game where you’re not allowed to use them!

We are not the only species with opposable thumbs, but is the argument here really that soccer has rules therefor it shouldn’t be counted as a sport? Yes, sports have restrictions that seem arbitrary and unique to the scenario of that sport and they don’t make any statements regarding the evolutionary fitness of humans.

(6) I resent the force-fed aspect of soccer. The same people trying to push soccer on Americans are the ones demanding that we love HBO’s “Girls,” light-rail, Beyonce and Hillary Clinton. The number of New York Times articles claiming soccer is “catching on” is exceeded only by the ones pretending women’s basketball is fascinating. I note that we don’t have to be endlessly told how exciting football is.

This is a fair argument for you personally not enjoying something. I’m certain we’ve all had the experience of a dozen people telling us we absolutely have to check something out and it gets to the point we’re already annoyed at whatever the thing was before we ever experience it. It is not a fair argument for why that same thing is an indication of a country’s moral decay. We also have an entire NFL network to tell us 24/7 how exciting football is, and ESPN keeps NFL Today running even through the off season.

(7) It’s foreign. In fact, that’s the precise reason the Times is constantly hectoring Americans to love soccer. One group of sports fans with whom soccer is not “catching on” at all, is African-Americans. They remain distinctly unimpressed by the fact that the French like it.

Many people try to hide their xenophobia, it’s refreshing to see it openly on display like this in the same way touching a jalapeno and then touching your eye is refreshing. She doesn’t provide any source for her claim about it not being popular among African Americans, and that which can be asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. I’ve also searched extensively for a racial breakdown of fans of MLS and all I can find is that The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports gives MLS an A+ for racial diversity among players and league office employees.[7] Warning PDF.

(8) Soccer is like the metric system, which liberals also adore because it’s European. Naturally, the metric system emerged from the French Revolution, during the brief intervals when they weren’t committing mass murder by guillotine.

Liberals get angry and tell us that the metric system is more “rational” than the measurements everyone understands. This is ridiculous. An inch is the width of a man’s thumb, a foot the length of his foot, a yard the length of his belt. That’s easy to visualize. How do you visualize 147.2 centimeters?

The only link made between soccer and the metric system is that it’s European. I’m only including the second part of this quote because I found this tangent so odd. It fits the xenophobia from the previous paragraph quite nicely but it has absolutely nothing to do with soccer. She was thrilled with her own delusions about the sport of Hockey a couple paragraphs ago despite it also originating in Europe.[8]

(9) Soccer is not “catching on.” Headlines this week proclaimed “Record U.S. ratings for World Cup,” and we had to hear — again — about the “growing popularity of soccer in the United States.”

If more “Americans” are watching soccer today, it’s only because of the demographic switch effected by Teddy Kennedy’s 1965 immigration law. I promise you: No American whose great-grandfather was born here is watching soccer. One can only hope that, in addition to learning English, these new Americans will drop their soccer fetish with time.

I started this piece by providing several arguments for why soccer might not be catching on, did you notice how none of my points involved 60s immigration laws? My family can trace it’s heritage back to the mayflower on one side and the civil war on the other. I had multiple great-grandfathers born here and I watch soccer. I will also take a soccer fetish over a stirring up controversy for the sole purpose of keeping yourself relevant fetish any day.

As certain as I am that Ann Coulter is divisive to serve her own needs, I am equally so that the national spirit and togetherness brought on by the US team in the World Cup was a great thing to experience. We knew we didn’t have much of a shot. The coach said so himself and even I rated us as least likely to get out of our group. We went for it though. We competed. We believed. Even if MLS doesn’t spike in popularity, I’m perfectly comfortable with a country that unites for one month every four years behind a squad of underdogs. We may have to relearn what an offsides call is each time, but does that sound so bad?

 

A Franchise By Any Other Name

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Before I get to Wednesday’s decision, I want to highlight where I have talked about the history of the Redskins franchise name before and some of the reasons they might want to change it here[1]. The piece about the Redskins is towards the bottom. In my post today I’ll be specifically talking about what changed this week, but if you want a little extra background please check that link.

On Wednesday the US Patent and Trademark Office canceled 6 trademarks the DC NFL franchise holds ruling them “disparaging to Native Americans.” It is illegal to trademark a disparaging term. I would like to emphasize this DOES NOT mean the team suddenly has to change its name. What it means is that it loses the right to put the ® after its name and instead must use the ™. I love providing you readers with unnecessary source material, so here is a link to the whole decision for those of you who enjoy legal jargon to start your weekend[2]. It is 177 pages.

The trademarks themselves are for names the team uses which contain the word ‘Redskin’. This includes Redskins, Washington Redskins, and Redskinettes(the team’s cheerleaders). It does not include anything having to do with the logo of the team. What the team in theory loses by this is the exclusive right to produce merchandise with its name. Joel Feldman, entertainment and media lawyer, had this opposing take in a recent interview, “The purpose of the Lanham act, which covers trademarks, is to protect consumers from deception so a court would probably not allow bootleggers to sell bootlegged merchandise that would deceive consumers even without the registration.”[3]

The NFL does have full profit sharing among the teams for merchandise sales(except the Dallas Cowboys, they have a separate contract) so if there really is a hit to Redskins merchandise sales it will be a shared burden between all the teams. This is important because as I’ve said before the only way the team name is being changed while Dan Snyder is their president is if the other NFL owners vote to force a change. The other owners don’t want to set a precedent that they aren’t really the final arbiters on matters involving their own teams, but a hit to the pocketbook may change some minds.

Merchandise is certainly not a huge moneymaker for the NFL though. The amount the NFL makes from commercials during just the superbowl almost outstrips the yearly gains from all merchandise(1.85 billion to 2.1 billion) and ticket sales are 25 times what merchandise sales are(51 billion).[4] The owners of NFL franchises didn’t accrue the amount of wealth they have by ignoring small hits to profits though, so we’ll see if it matters at all in the long run.

There was an attempt back in 1992 when seven Native Americans successfully sued to have the trademarks canceled, but that ruling was later overturned. After the ruling this week Redskins trademark attorney Bob Raskopf said, “We’ve seen this story before, and just like last time, today’s ruling will have no effect at all on the team’s ownership of and right to use the Redskins name and logo. We are confident we will prevail once again, and that the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s divided ruling will be overturned on appeal.” The Redskins are going to appeal this decision as well, and do retain all trademark rights while the appeal is running its course.

The reason the courts overturned the 90s decision was because they found it violated the Laches doctrine. Laches in this case is essentially a statute of limitations for trademark holders. It is in place to protect someone from filing for a trademark, it being granted to them, the organization putting a whole bunch of money behind the trademark, and then a suit coming down to pull the rug out from under them after there has already been substantial investment. In this case the court has ruled that Laches does not apply so Mr. Raskopf shouldn’t be quite as ready to draw parallels between the organization’s successful appeal in the past and the current situation.

This could be the start of dominoes falling, but when Dan Snyder says, “We’ll never change the name. It’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps,” he means it. In his mind the name truly represents his childhood and cheering for the team he loves. I don’t think any amount of legal precedent or letters from congress are going to change his mind on the issue, and his mind changing is the only way the name is changing while he is president of the team.

As always, questions, comments, and concerns are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.

 

Surviving the Watercooler World Cup 2014

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As with all posts in my ‘Surviving the Watercooler’ series, this post isn’t meant to be a grand preview of this global event. It is simply meant to prepare you for conversations you’re likely to find yourself involved in during this month long event. Just like I mentioned in my March Madness StWC, it’s important to remember that if you’re talking about soccer(yes I’ll be calling it soccer) in America, it is unlikely the person you’re talking to truly has a solid grasp of the historical rivalries present between the nations or appropriate winger strategy to hold a lead late in a match.

I will be focusing on the 2014 world cup, except for this paragraph. The 2022 World Cup has already generated a hooligans’ riot worth of controversy. There is an ongoing bribery and corruption investigation looking into how the world cup was given to a country that has: extremely strict rules about alcohol(including not letting foreignors import it), outdoor temperatures reaching into the 120 degrees, and concerns about the egregious human rights violations present in the country including the over 1,000 migrant workers already estimated to have died in the construction of the world cup facilities.[1]

Brazil has had its share of problems leading up to the world cup as well. Graffiti in many Brazilian cities reads, “Copa pra quem?” translated as, “Who is the cup for?” Spending on the world cup is estimated to be 11.5 billion dollars with 3 billion coming from the taxpayers of the host country.[2] One example of why the people of Brazil are particularly upset is the host site for the US team’s second game. The stadium is in the city of Manaus, cost 270 million dollars to build, and is expected to host a grand total of 4 world cup games.  The city of Manaus also has no local team to fill the stadium afterwards.

Much of the facilities and accommodations built with the money will almost certainly be used for the 2016 summer Olympics which are also set to be hosted in Rio. I would venture the guess that Brazil already hosting the world cup was probably a point in its favor when bidding for the 2016 Olympics. Unfortunately the current set of headlines the 2016 Olympics are getting are largely centered around the bay in which the sailing events will be hosted which is currently filled with, “a deluge of rubbish including floating mattresses, car tyres, submerged sofas, dog carcasses and even human corpses,”[3] That sort of press and Brazil’s promise that they should be able to clean up the bay by 50% doesn’t fill me with Olympic spirit.

The world cup itself starts with 32 teams split into 8 groups. Each team plays the three other teams in its group and is awarded three points for a win, one point for a draw, and zero points for a loss. The top two teams in each group advance to a single elimination tournament. If a team advances to the championship match they will have played seven games. You’ll hear variations of ‘let’s win seven!’ as a rallying cry.

The groups themselves are as follows:

Group A: Brazil(the favorite to win the group), Mexico, Cameroon, and Croatia(least likely to advance)

Group B: Spain(the favorite to win the group by a large margin), Chile, Netherlands, and Australia(least likely to advance)

Group C: Colombia(the favorite to win the group), Japan, Ivory Coast, and Greece(least likely to advance)

Group D: Italy(the favorite to win the group just barely), Uruguay, England, and Costa Rica(least likely to advance)

Group E: France(the favorite to win the group by a large margin), Switzerland, Ecuador, and Honduras(least likely to advance)

Group F: Argentina(almost guaranteed to win the group), Bosnia, Nigeria, and Iran(least likely to advance)

Group G: Germany(the favorite to win the group), Portugal, Ghana, and the US(least likely to advance)

Group H: Belgium(the favorite to win the group), Russia, South Korea, and Algeria(least likely to advance)

Brazil is the favorite to win the whole thing with Argentina and Spain also viewed as strong contenders. The US is currently being given a 5-10% chance of winning the group and a 0.5% chance of winning the entire tournament.

The US is guaranteed to play three games though. The first match is against Ghana, will be Monday June 16th 6pm EST, and is a match the US absolutely has to win in order to have a chance of making it out of the group. The second game will be against Portugal Sunday June 22nd 6pm EST, and finally US plays Germany Thursday June 26th 12pm EST. If you want the US to advance you should cheer for Germany to win their first two matches so they are guaranteed to advance and may not play as hard against the US in the final match of group play. It should be noted that an elephant in a German zoo did pick the US to beat Germany in the group stage.[4] The world cup has a long history of prophetic animals, a Brazilian loggerhead turtle is already 1-0.[5]

I’m not going to go through individual players, but if you want some factoids about the big names of the world cup I would recommend this CBS sports piece.[5]. You may also enjoy the Onion’s story on the same topic which includes Christiano Ronaldo’s strength as, “Hair gel slathered all over body allows him to easily slip away from defenders.” [6]

The first match of the world cup has already been played with Brazil beating Croatia 3-1. In the match a foul was called which is causing accusations of referees being paid to give the host country the win. You can see the foul here[7]. I can’t recite too many soccer rules, but I know a flop when I see one. Flopping works particularly well in soccer because each match only has one referee and obviously it’s hard for one person to keep unobstructed views of the entire field during play.

The official reason for sticking to just one ref is that FIFA wants the world cup officiating the same way as any other game in the world. That sounds nice but it isn’t the same as every other game in the world. The whole world is watching and will see what you get wrong. On the plus side, this is the first world cup to use cameras on the goal line for controversial goals, but that is all that is being reviewed.

If you are not into soccer, but have decided to give a match or two a chance because this should be the best soccer the world has to offer, watch one of the first matches of the elimination tournament. Counter intuitively, don’t watch the championship match and judge everything off that. That match has a history of being on the boring side because no coach wants to make a gutsy decision, get it wrong, and be a permanent pariah in the country they’re coaching.

The US really doesn’t have a great chance of making it out of group play, so I’d recommend picking a team that is slightly more likely to make a deep run and follow them. I have a friend with close ties to Belgium, so I’d like to close this post by saying GO RED DEVILS!

As always, questions, comments, and criticisms are welcome. Answers are guaranteed.