March 5, 2015 — The retirement of some very large targets

During the ongoing tour of the Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey circus to large indoor venues across the United States, one prominent feature of the publicity for the circus was a parade of elephants through city streets, which allowed passersby from all social classes to gawk at the exotic animals who have been part of the show for more than a century.

But as much as elephants could help galvanize the imagination of the public, they also were a very large target for animal rights activists and for others concerned about animal welfare. Today, the circus’ holding company announced that it would be phasing out the elephants within three years.

Circuses were one of the few places where one could see wild animals from other continents, and pachyderms have been part of traveling shows in the U.S. since 1795. But with concerns over elephants worldwide, especially their status as an endangered species in Africa, has partially resulted in this decision.

Note the word “partially.”

What I think has also happened is that other circus promotions have outstripped Ringling Brothers-Barnum & Bailey in terms of popularity — mostly by going back to the roots of circus performance.

Before relying heavily on animal acts, early circuses were all about jugglers and acrobats and people walking on wires. Today, the wildly popular Cirque du Soleil company puts on 18 different shows in locations around the world.

It’s apparent that Ringling is going after this very lucrative market. We’ll see if they also ditch the rest of the wild animals it uses in its performances.

March 4, 2015 — One arrival, one departure

In a reflection of the growth of Brooklyn as a borough of New York City, it was announced a month ago that the Long Island University campus in Brooklyn will be adding field hockey as a varsity sport in 2015.

The addition of another field hockey team in the New York metropolitan area is a good sign for the sport, especially in an area of the borough which has seen great growth and desirability the last five years. Two pro sports teams — basketball’s Brooklyn Nets and hockey’s New York Islanders — will be in the borough beginning this fall. Many young professionals have moved into neighborhoods abutting the university’s campus.

The Blackbirds will be playing in NCAA Division I as part of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference beginning this fall. It’s not known exactly where the team will play; LIU’s current multipurpose pitch is a rubber-based turf, but I wonder if a water-based facility is in the university’s plan.

But while we celebrate the start of a new team, a century-old field hockey tradition is set to end as early as this August. Sweet Briar College, whose field hockey history can be traced back to as early as 1920, has announced its decision to close its doors entirely, citing the difficulty of carrying on as a single-sex institution.

Sweet Briar, which is located near Lynchburg, Va., has not had the best of luck on the pitch the last few years. The Vixens have won exactly 10 games since 2008. But, as countless alumnae will tell you, the value of playing intercollegiate sports isn’t found in the wins and losses, but in being able to compete and to work together as a team towards a common goal.

It’s a great thing that Sweet Briar was able to give its student-athletes a chance to play field hockey as an athletic outlet for as long as they did, especially in a location so far away from the sport’s roots in Boston and Philadelphia. It is a proud tradition that will be missed.

March 3, 2015 — An unwelcome reminder

It was only a decade ago when a series of pictures on the Internet resulted in the Catholic University women’s lacrosse team being placed on probation and team members having to be re-educated on the dangers of hazing.

In these days when entire websites like Bad Jocks, TMZ, and The Smoking Gun have made their mission exposing the such misdeeds, it’s been much more difficult for teams to get away with hazing. But I find it interesting that there has been an unusual concentration of hazing scandals in NCAA Division III women’s lacrosse.

For instance, Franklin & Marshall saw its 2012 season suspended due to hazing, just a game short of playing its conference tournament. The Diplomats were a hot favorite that season for perhaps making the Final Four.

The latest Division III women’s team under scrutiny is Roanoke, which has been playing lacrosse on the varsity level since 1978. The women’s team stands accused of hazing in the form of serving alcohol to underage players.

The university’s response has been unusually swift. According to Roanoke College’s Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Aaron Fetrow, the university has decided to forfeit a third of the Maroons’ season.

We’re not privy to exactly which third of the season is to be forfeited, but I’d presume it includes today’s season opener which was scheduled to be played in Puerto Rico as well as a showdown with No. 1 Salisbury this Sunday.

There are other penalties, including hazing education for team members, the suspension of the team captains for one game each, and community service in the form of a Habitat for Humanity house.

“If you engage in these initiations or rituals, there’s going to be a penalty,” Fetrow tells WDBJ in Roanoke. “I think some people think we were strict in the penalty, but we needed to send a message.”

Consider the message sent. It’s a lesson the NFL could learn.

March 2, 2015 — A symptom, hopefully

A story written today in the Ohio State University student newspaper The Lantern reports that the university’s athletic department self-reported 47 rules violations during the 2014 calendar year.

But one of the violations jumped off the page.

A member of the field hockey team took part in 17 games during the 2013-14 school year even though she was ineligible. The school paid $5,000 in fines and declared the student-athlete ineligible for field hockey going forward.

This is the same university whose football program has received a number of sanctions in its handling of NCAA violations the last decade and a half, even as it won national championships with people of dubious character in its lineup.

Now, before assessing blame or accountability here, let’s make it clear that many schools have compliance officers and academic advisors for their student-athletes, and this level of authority is supposed to take the pressure off the coaching staff of the school’s sports teams to allow them to concentrate on coaching.

I sincerely believe that, given the history of the OSU sports program over the last few years, that someone severely dropped the ball when it comes to the eligibility status of the field hockey student-athlete cited in The Lantern. I’ve known schools which have dropped players because of academics midway through the academic year, such is the scrutiny of the student-athlete in most colleges and universities these days. How can a university not know that an ineligible player is on its roster until after the season has ended?

I don’t believe the fault lies in the coaching staff; I’ve known Anne Wilkinson for years and she has demonstrated commitment to the integrity of the sport not only in Ohio, but nationwide.

Instead, I think the fault lies somewhere in the athletic administration — one which has shown a laissez-faire attitude towards the rules and has, frankly, ruined the lives of Maurice Clarett, Terrell Pryor, and others.

March 1, 2015 — A best chance to reverse history

Yesterday, the United States men’s national field hockey team started off its Olympic qualifying campaign in an eight-nations tournament in Chula Vista, Calif.

The tournament is one of three second-round matches in the FIH World League, a worldwide series of survival-of-the-fittest tournaments which helps determine which teams qualify for either the Olympics or the FIH World Cup.

The United States men have trained hard under head coach Chris Clements over the last few years, posting their progress on social media with the hashtag #NODAYSOFF. Question is, can the current efforts of the men reverse a rather star-crossed history?

While we know that women’s field hockey has had a rich history since 1901, there are accounts of men playing a stick-and-ball game resembling field hockey as early as the 1870s. It is one of many stick-and-ball games such as bandy, ice polo, and shinny which were adopted on college and school campuses.

But while field hockey had an almost exclusive hold on women and girls in terms of athletic offerings for American schools, the wide array of sports offered to boys (football, wrestling, baseball, tennis, soccer, lacrosse) prevented the game from catching on in the United States. At the senior level, the U.S. men’s program has had to borrow athletes from foreign shores and from other sports in order to compete.

The results have borne this out. The United States men’s national field hockey team has not qualified for an Olympics on its own in 59 years. Its only two berths since then were as the host nation in Los Angeles 1984 and Atlanta 1996.

It’s not impossible for the Americans to make the next Olympics, but a good showing is essential in World League 2 in Chula Vista. The United States needs to place in the top three in order to make it to the World League’s third round, which helps determine which non-continental champions will qualify for the 12-team Olympic tournament.

The key to the entire tournament, as is customary in FIH competitions, is the quarterfinal round, which will take place on Thursday. None of the teams are eliminated from the tournament after pool play, so the first crossover match will cut the field in half. Should the United States cross over against a winnable opponent such as Italy or Austria, the Americans would need just one more win to qualify for the World League semifinals.

The United States would then be placed in one of two 10-nations tournaments — one in Belgium and one in Argentina. Most of the teams likely to be continental champions, such as Germany, Australia, and Holland, are going to be in these two tournaments, and it would take a tremendous effort to make the top three in either one of them.

The Olympic dream won’t die if the U.S. doesn’t make it into the World League semis, but it sets up a situation where the United States men would have to win the Pan American Games in Toronto this summer, which would truly be a tough ask.

Feb. 28, 2015 — Where we are; where we could be

They honored Tina Sloan Green last night at halftime of an NBA game in Philadelphia for her years of service in field hockey and lacrosse, as well as the co-founder of the Black Women in Sport Foundation.

She played and coached field hockey and lacrosse in an era before the NCAA, and during a post-civil rights boom in which players of all shades had the opportunity to play the sport.

If Tina Sloan Green saw the national landscape of both sports today, however, she might not be completely happy with the lack of progress of racial minorities. Go to national tournaments for youth field hockey and youth lacrosse, and you might never see a brown face.

That’s why I am heartened by the recruitment pattern and tactics of Kelly Amonte-Hiller at Northwestern University. Racial and ethnic minorities have dotted the lacrosse roster, such as Taylor Thornton and Jess Carroll. And the team’s current freshman sensation is Selena Lasota, a member of the Katzie tribe whose native lands are in British Columbia.

My hope, on this last day of Black History Month, is that enough young people of color are able to see some of these fantastic players on the pitch, follow their progress, and aspire to one day take their place on the field of play.

 

Feb. 26, 2015 — An opportunity missed

They’ve been debating funding for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for weeks on Capitol Hill in a maneuver designed to try to undo a number of executive orders having to do with immigration.

It’s one of those inside Washington maneuvers called “linkage,” which starts with a piece of legislation with an end goal of trying to affect other pieces of legislation. It’s been done hundreds of times over the course of American history.

Only this type of linkage is a missed opportunity.

Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Department of Homeland Security has become one of the largest line items in the federal budget. It is a department that has aggregated such disparate elements such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Border Patrol. And, in the wake of numerous failures on the part of private security agencies to screen checked baggage on airline flights after the 1989 Lockerbie bombings, DHS created a public agency for this purpose called the Transportation Security Administration.

As with many large government organizations with such wide-ranging and sometimes contradictory missions, DHS has been run extremely badly. It blundered the response to Hurricane Katrina by blocking badly-needed food aid to needy people in Louisiana and Texas. It has been accused of aggregating data on so-called “no fly” lists making it impossible for innocent citizens, including public officials, to go through screenings without increased scrutiny. And DHS has been accused of sexual assaults, strip-searching of children, and pushing unnecessary regulations on the traveling public.

Now, it’s being argued that Homeland Security is too big and too important to fail, especially with the transnational aspirations of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on display seemingly every day on social media and the news.

The problem is that Congress and those in Washington fail to realize that ISIL isn’t fighting an ideological or religious war, but an economic war. There’s nothing they would like better than to see Western nations spend more money than they can afford on multiple layers of security for attacks that will never happen. It’s reminiscent of what happened during the second Iraq War when the U.S. military employed “force protection,” armed security guards for soldiers out on patrol — as if fully-armed soldiers with body armor couldn’t protect themselves.

One other thing the current security-industrial complex is also failing to realize is some of the advice that is often offered when it comes to how the average citizen protects a house or a car. A true professional burglar or car thief, it is said, will find a way to break in. It’s up to the citizen to either slow down the criminal or at least make the thief find an easier target.

The current battle for DHS funding is an opportunity to get this large agency, one that seemingly gets everything and anything it wants on the taxpayers’ dime, under some semblance of control. It could also change the mindset to fit the reality of the situation rather than the fear that something will happen down the line. It could wind down the perpetual state of war around the world and the seeming paranoia that runs through government agencies when it comes to all things “security.”

But the Republican majority is fixated on an adversarial stance against the executive branch as the end goal and not the best interests of the Constitution.

And that’s a shame.

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