Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Conspiracy and Sport

Whenever there's a game where even 60% of the calls and most notably, a handful of important ones, go in favor of one team or the other, talk then becomes dominated by how the result was "fixed", how the administrators of a sport have determined that one team will lose and that another will win, based perhaps on region, perhaps on overall popularity or perhaps that somebody somewhere has just crapped out.

Sometimes, like the 1972 Olympic basketball finals, where one call completely changes the result of the game or other instances where players and/or coaches have thrown matches, these accusations have some merit. However, most of the time, as it is in life, mistakes are just that, mistakes.

To accurately "fix" a match, when it is so full of various twists and turns, would be exceedingly difficult, especially considering that if any part of it would come to light, that the validity of the sporting organization of itself would be immediately at threat. As much control as an official has, they cannot make a player score purely by influence alone. In cases where an official appears to be favoring a team, it is far more likely that the official is merely incompetent and if one team is forcing the action, those mistakes will be amplified to one side or another -- for example, if a team is constantly defending, either the official will call too many or not enough fouls and there will not be enough incidents of the overwhelmed team attacking to balance things out.

Why then, is it necessary to assign some sort of agency?

Or more importantly, as a friend likes to ask, "Who benefits from this narrative?"

The answer seems to be that people are more comfortable with the concept of malice as opposed to incompetence. Given a choice between a world where shadowy figures exert control through hidden measures and one where we are ground in our myopia between the gears of Destiny and Fate, people will go for the former. It at least allows for a situation where somebody is in control, even if they turn out to be Evil.

(It should be noted that one kind of conspiracy by the higher-ups is possible, in that by assigning an official who is known to be incompetent, it is likely that certain results will occur. This is analogous to the difference between saying that 9/11 was an inside job and that the U.S. Administration knowingly turned a blind eye to the possibility of an attack.)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

An Open Letter to Adrian Wojnarowski

In Reply to: "Miles separated Blazers GM from greatness"


I wanted to reply to your recent article on the Darius Miles-Kevin Pritchard fiasco.

There are several pieces of rebuttal that you never even begun to shed light on, and you seem to perpetuate this personal attack on the Blazers' front office with no real argument.

First of all, independent doctors deemed Darius' injury to be career-ending - they are the ones that stamped the label of "medical retirement" on Darius - not the Blazers front office.

But, the front office, obviously, relished that it had a "dirty" bill of health for Miles. Pritchard has made no secret that his goal was to change the character of the Blazers organization - and Darius was the man that needed to be gone to make that image complete. During his years as a Blazer, he showed his continued immaturity and presented absolutely no passion for the game. Darius was the "poison pill" that allowed writers like you to keep up the "Jail Blazers" tag on the franchise.

Not only was Darius a malingering drain on the franchise, but his contract made him virtually untradeable (a fault of the Blazers, I know). So why shouldn't Pritchard, and more importantly Paul Allen, try and see the injury as the only means of escape from a bad situation?

Keep in mind, this is Paul Allen, he didn't get to where he is by handing out money in 8 million dollar chunks willy nilly. Why shouldn't he feel personally attacked when his own money is as stake? Would you, for example, roll over for millions of your own dollars in a case like this? Put yourself in Paul's shoes. You protect your investment.

Did the Blazers' do everything right? Absolutely not. But, did they also receive some injustice in being thrust into this situation? Absolutely.

I applaud Darius in coming back from this injury - it shows a lot more character than he portrayed in Portland. It's a shame that the Blazers' fueled the fire for Darius to play again, but no one is blaming Darius. And no one should.

Perhaps the blame is on writers that continually use this as a personal dart board with Kevin Pritchard's face plastered on it. It's lazy writing and by no means a new story (why don't you research the Fortune 500 companies that protect their investments in an even more unethical way?).

I hope in the future to read much less ireful, and hopefully more insightful, BASKETBALL commentary from the writers at Yahoo! Sports.


More insightful commentary from someone WAY smarter than me here.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year, Idiots

So it took exactly one day into the New Year for Ol' Woj to come up with an apologia for Good Ol' Brett vis-a-vis a non-comparison comparison with Aaron Rodgers. Gene tries to set it up like it's a wash while constantly bringing up little asides on how Favre's division was tougher, how Rodgers had more prep time (and who, exactly is to blame for that?) and how Rodgers sucked from coming from behind.

Oh yeah, and Favre threw a ton of picks. A league-leading amount of picks, in fact. His skill players were worse though, so it's cool.

I'd also like to set an over/under of a week for Ol' Woj to respond to Thomas Jones calling out Favre for being selfish and a shitty teammate who distanced himself from the other players. Double or nothing if he compares Jones disfavorably to Obama.

To move across the pond, sad news from Soccernet, where Phil Ball, half of the writers on that site worth reading (the other half being Uli Hesse-Lichtenberger*), has moved on to ply his trade else where. This means that rather than thoughtful and nuanced pieces that manage to take a reasonable and knowledgable stance on the sport itself (not to mention understanding that there's more to sport than just sport), we're stuck with dross like this.

The weakest part of a weak article is the passage making fun of Marouane Fellaini, whose main fault seems to be that he hasn't become a worldwide star in his three months or so in the EPL. Oh, sorry Marouane, your ability to adjust to an incredibly physical and demanding league in a short time and become an integral part of a good team while showcasing your ability to both attack and defend while playing multiple roles as the team suffers an injury crisis is made moot because you have a silly haircut and cost more money than the cheap shit that whoever writes this crap gets lashed on every night.

Happy New Year, motherfuckers.

* - And it's no conincidence that these writers are more strongly affiliated with the mighty good When Saturday Comes rather than the corporate blockheadedness of The Worldwide Leader.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I Pay Your Salary OR The Sociology of Fandom, Part Whatever

"I pay your salary."

There is a common delusion among sports fans that players are in some way beholden to their fans because the fans "pay their salary" through their economic consumption of sports.

Unless you are writing a check every two weeks that says "Frank Thomas" on it, you are not paying his salary. Even if you write a check to the Denver Broncos or to their ticket office, you are not paying Jay Cutler's salary. The movement of dollars through various entities transmogrifies it. It is no longer yours, it no longer carries your dreams and desires, if it did it in the first place.

Aside from highlighting a particularly childlike view of basic economics, this trope is a good example of how fans feel alienated from modern sports and how they attempt to bridge this gap.

This update was borne out of a Clinton Portis anecdote about interacting with the public. Here, the gap was bridged physically, the player controlled. The semantics of the utterance "I pay your salary" is then exposed as having much deeper meanings than the surface interpretation. For most of us, if our boss/supervisor, someone who far more literally pays our salaries (although it's more that they provide us with the opportunity to be paid, we'll skip over that for now), were to grab us like the unnamed fan grabbed Portis, it would be inappropriate. This is not to say that this hasn't happened or would automatically result in termination or some other censure for the higher-up; it would still represent a breach of the social contract and an action that most would deem as unacceptable, especially in a professional environment.

Instead, what is meant here is "I Own You", replete with all the racial connotations inherent in a white fanbase rooting for a largely non-white pool of athletes. I'd like to say that this is borne out of sports being increasingly dominated by economics, with astronomical numbers increasingly becoming the norm; I think this has always been around though, the feeling that as fans are a tribe, the players are not the leaders of the tribe, they somehow owe their existence to the tribe. Some sort of reversal of the standard cosmological religious relationship, where the masses are aware that they have created their gods and thus establish their primacy, fandom wresting the title of Demiurge from their pantheons.

This is all because sports are now effectively completely abstract in terms of their relationships to the geographical commuities that they are supposed to represent. While it seems that nothing except Liberated Fandom is a reasonable stance to take in a situation of We Have Always Been Conference Rivals With Oceania, the old allegiances still reign supreme, a bit weathered and faded as people take on "second teams"; yet still the Manichean view pervades, obscuring Truth, Reason and Beauty.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Blazers Wallpaper!

[UPDATED] - 11/17
I, admittedly, have too much free time on my hand. Please enjoy this new wallpaper.

[1440 x 900]

[1920 x 1200]

[1920 x 1440]

[1280 x 800]

I appreciate your comments and/or rantings about what a crappy job I did.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

R.I.P. Duckworth


Most Improved Player: 1988
All-Star: 1989, 1991

NBA Finals: 1990, 1992

We'll miss you, big fella.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

I just can't help myself

I know that ESPN is all about puff these days. Trying to find something that actually analyzes sport or the business that surrounds it is difficult when pushing through all the flab of personality pieces, regurgitated press releases and "frat-fan" pandering. The most insipid content on are the feature columnists, who read like the editorial page of a badly out-of-touch regional newspaper, myopically hearkening back to a world that never existed outside of their heads, appealing to whatever they might believe will get Joe Fan out of their seat, spilling their domestic beer in righteous outrage, regardless of whether what they're saying is relevant or correct.

Knowing this, I should really stop a. reading it and/or b. stop writing self-righteous screeds about them on MFF. However, I can't help myself. I like sports. I like what sports journalism has a chance to be and if nothing else, I like letting off steam by taking people to task when I feel like they're using their platform in a less than meritorious fashion.

The target of today's bile is Good Ol' Gene Wojciechowski, a MFF favorite (along with Pat Forde) because he represents the worst of ESPN's "voice", that being an easy, middle-of-the-road white-bread "fan's view" that could very well be automatically generated by a machine in a Bristol basement and is almost always unfailingly bone-headed to the point where I wonder if a cranial cavity is involved at all.

The article in question.

The issue is whether NFL rookie contracts are too generous. I think that there's a pretty obvious answer there, which is: "yes". When teams are more interested in trading down and getting rid of higher (read: better) draft picks for purely financial reasons, then something is amiss and it's no surprise that the NFL would want to address the issue. Yes, NFL management made a mistake in letting this situation occur in the first place and yes, the player's union is absolutely correct in not wanting it to change. It's a sticky problem and it's unlikely that it will be elegantly resolved.

Which is why it's reasonable for Wojciechowski to chide the NFL management in terms of letting it occur and then appearing to the bad guys by asking the union to help fix things up. Fair enough.

Then he goes on to point out that hey, the Dolphins are pretty excited about this Chris Long guy, enough so that they signed him before the draft and sent his agent a medal for helping it get done. So, since a team appears to be happy with the player that they drafted first overall, a player who has yet to play a snap in the NFL, I guess this means that there isn't a problem. A single pick, taken out of context and heavily relying on supposition that the player involved will pan out, is proof enough that the system works. Huzzah!

After this, he points out that football players operate under different rules than the average working man. Good point, Gene! I commend you on not pulling out the "George Fanguy moves from Midway Accounting to Takahashi Inc. as accounting fans boo hysterically from the sidewalk" trope that mid-rate columnists like to drag out like a distentegrating corpse, instead restraining yourself to merely stating that people who earn astronomical amounts of money to play a game are beholden to rules and regulations that don't apply to say, somebody who runs a hot dog stand.

The next step is to needle Goodell for not taking a pay cut himself and then launch into a full-scale assault on the NFL for pricing out fans. While high executive pay and the rising cost of attending sporting events are definitely issues that deserve debate and investigation, I fail to see how they're relevant to the problem of high rookie contracts acting as a disincentive to the point where they become more important than actual athletic talent. For one thing, the NBA, which has a rookie contract system that Goodell would like to mimic, still has the executive pay and high seat prices problems of the NFL, which would seem to indicate that there doesn't seem to be a direct connection those and having a less grandiose system for determining rookie contracts. And if there's no connection, you have to wonder exactly why it would be brought up unless these are subjects that will appeal to the fan that is being priced out and spark a resentment of perceived elitism that creates a kneejerk response in lieu of actually having to write something thoughtful. Or maybe we don't, because that seems to make a lot of sense.

Wojciechowski then brings up that the league and its owners are making a shit-ton of money. This is not really debatable. Jerry Jones could pay for a facelift for every NFL fan worldwide and still have enough money left over to make the country of Bolivia dance for his amusement. The league itself has reached an unprecedented position of success in American sports and bestrides the continent like a money-stuffed colossus. What this has to do with the fact that draft picks have lost value because of the structure of rookie contracts, I'm not entirely sure, beyond acting as an incentive to rile up fans about how they're gettin' screwed by the fat cats in the NFL front office. Oh, looks like I answered my own question again.

The main problem I have with this piece is that it promotes this ridiculously simplistic worldview where if Goodell says "We are currently giving rookies too much money" the response is "Well, you've got lots and lots of money, so why do you have a problem giving it to the people who play the game?" It seems reasonable at first; however, once you start thinking about the situation, the issue isn't about total pay, it's about how giving untested players a lot of money right off the bat makes it difficult for teams to improve through the draft since the rookies are going to be taking up money from the cap that could be used for proven players, money that might as well be tossed into a furnace if these rookies (as many don't) don't pan out. The issue here is how rookie contracts affect competitive balance, something that is near and dear to the NFL's (black, oozing, money-stuffed) heart, not protecting the bottom line. (A conclusion that is made even more ridiculous by the fact that there's a salary cap.)

In closing: ESPN is horrible. Gene Wojciechowski writes intellectually dishonest columns. And we're a bunch of spiteful jerks. Everybody have a safe Fourth!