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Jan. 19, 2017 — A much louder separation

It was sometime during the parade of witnesses reading victim impact statements in an East Lansing, Mich. courtroom that word came down from USA Gymnastics that it would no longer be holding U.S. women’s national team camps and residency at the Karolyi Ranch outside Huntsville, Tex. It is there where former national team doctor Larry Nassar is alleged to have sexually assaulted dozens of members of the national team pool — both at the senior and at the junior levels.

It is easy, and perhaps a bit too convenient, to conclude that the reason for leaving the ranch is the memories left behind on the part of many of Nassar’s victims, including those who shot to world prominence through winning Olympic gold medals.

But I wonder if there is something else. And this we may not find out until the end of a Harris County investigation into sexual abuse at the ranch, and we may not find out until there is a full inquisition of the powers-that-be overseeing the sport.

In so many words, what did Bela and Martha Karolyi know about the abuses, and when did they know it?

What did Michigan State University president Lou Anna Simon know about Nassar, and when did she know it?

Were there outside forces — shoe companies, alumni/ae, boosters — keeping a lid on what was going on?

As we’ve learned from the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State, it is possible that the very highest levels of athletic administration could have gotten wind of this. And if was proven that no action was taken in a reasonable time frame, it represents an irreparable breach of trust, a lack of institutional competency, and should constitute the commission of a crime.

As the witness statements conclude today, go back over them and listen to the number of times that oversight (or the lack thereof) is being blamed for Nassar’s crimes. If you’re sending your daughter to university as a Division I athlete, this should get your attention.

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Jan. 18, 2017 — A great lacrosse coach steps away, albeit tersely

Chris Robinson, who has coached two of the greatest dynasties ever seen in the game of girls’ high school lacrosse, abruptly resigned last night.

In clarifying remarks given to media sources, he stated that the reason for his resignation was to devote more time to his lacrosse-oriented businesses, including camps and clinics, but also to the nascent National Girls’ Lacrosse League, a middle-school league which could range from the Midwest to the East Coast this year.

“We want to make sure it’s done right,” Robinson said in a statement. “It’s a very pivotal year for the development of the league and the ultimate goal of it is to kind of mirror a bit of what the Little League World Series is to baseball and having league competition under one umbrella and eventually qualifying out of your region into a national championship format. There’s nothing else like it in lacrosse. The youth lacrosse throughout the country is very disjointed and we figured this would be a great opportunity for the young ladies, so it’s a huge project and we feel it’s really in a pivotal year to make that happen.”

Seeing that the resignation took place only two months before the Eagles’ opening road trip to Florida, it was an awkward moment for the coach who had authored a 177-game win streak and who helped start a 103-game win streak at Ellicott City Mount Hebron (Md.).

As such, rumors ran wild in greater Baltimore over the last day or so. It’s easy to have such rumors when men in authority resign from a high position, whether as head coach of the best team in the country, a news anchor, a company CEO, or even a prominent role in a motion picture.

But here’s why you should give Robinson the benefit of the doubt.

  1. Robinson knows all the rules about behavior with students. He served as principal of Mount Hebron for a spell after departing the girls’ lacrosse coaching position and before joining the McDonogh staff as a middle-school science teacher.
  2. Because of his prominence, any missteps he may have made would have been picked up on by the people around him. This includes his brother Scott, who is his assistant coach; and his daughter Anna, who is a senior on the team.
  3. Robinson is building a brand. The name could very well turn out to be a powerful one in the sport, much like what has happened with Under Armour, and I can’t see him doing anything to ruin it.

Robinson has a record of 341-18-1 (95.0) in his years with McDonogh and Mount Hebron. It is the kind of winning percentage which is very much in the Clair Bee, Sharon Pfluger, Anson Dorrance, or Danyle Heilig realm of consistent excellence.

Jan. 17, 2017 — A shocking and sad litany

The last day or so has seen a parade of young women, their lawyers, and surrogates going in and out of Rosemarie Aquilina’s circuit court chambers in Lansing, Mich.

The occasion: the reading of victim impact statements in the sentencing phase of the trial of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University team doctor Larry Nassar.

The number of statements should be shocking to you; there could be as many as 125 of them in this phase of the trial.

Thing is, it is not shocking to your Founder. In doing background research in order to better understand the problem of child sex abuse in sports in light of the trial and conviction of former U.S. field hockey international Todd Broxmeyer, we’ve estimated that, in light of the fact that only a dozen witnesses came forward at trial and at sentencing, Broxmeyer had access to between 175 to 200 young women as a field hockey coach over 17 years.

The Nassar trial, however, is being held in a cultural cauldron where men who have abused their authority are not getting away with it with the brazen and cynical tactics of the past, blaming and shaming victims. Instead, in large part because of the “#metoo” movement, more women are showing backbone by coming forward.

It’s happening in large ways, and even in small ways. An acquaintance of mine, who works in a large government office, reported repeated and unwanted advances by a man three times her age the other day. The responsive human resources department responded to her email message within 30 seconds, and an investigation is under way.

As it should.

 

Jan. 16, 2018 — Casting a pall

The Colorado women’s lacrosse team will be gathering this week, but not for practice.

This weekend in Philadelphia, the Buffs will be celebrating the life of one of their own.

Senior Julia Sarcona, from Northport, N.Y., died in a one-car crash over the weekend when her SUV skidded off the road and struck a tree.

All you need to do to understand the impact this young woman had on the community is to watch the Newsday video accompanying this story.

She will be missed.

Jan. 15, 2018 — The co-op is dead in New Jersey (for now)

It has been reported today that outgoing New Jersey Governor Chris Christie has exercised his privilege of the pocket veto to kill a bill allowing schools within the same school district to form co-op teams in order to save athletic programs threatened by low enrollment.

The bill was amongst roughly 50 that Christie did not take action on before his term ends tomorrow at noon.

Given the amount of support the bill had in the last session of the New Jersey General Assembly and state Senate, I’ll be interested to see if the bill is reintroduced and passed for consideration by Governor-Elect Phil Murphy.

After all, the arguments on both sides will remain. Schools with historically low turnout for some sports will still be looking for bodies in order to fill roster slots.

But I believe the NJSIAA is going to have to come up with a better argument against the bill. The argument that the bill is going to bring up the era of “super teams” in New Jersey, I believe, does not hold water.

That’s because the state of New Jersey has been the home of a number of “super teams” which have operated within the rules of the NJSIAA for years. Mind you, there are a number of preparatory schools which have opted out of conventional interscholastic competition such as the wrestling team of Blairstown Blair Academy (N.J.), the swim teams of Hightstown Peddie School (N.J.), the boys’ ice hockey team from The Lawrenceville (N.J.) School, and the boys’ soccer team from Newark St. Benedict’s (N.J.). A pair of notable basketball superpowers, Elizabeth St. Patrick’s (N.J.) and Jersey City St. Anthony (N.J.) no longer play because their schools have closed.

Other teams, such as the boys’ lacrosse program at Mountain Lakes (N.J.) and the field hockey team at Voorhees Eastern (N.J.), have taken advantage of rules allowing school districts to admit non-resident students on a tuition basis, through policies adopted by local school boards.

These things are already happening, even without a law allowing co-op sports teams.

Jan. 14, 2018 — Important changes in the U.S. indoor lineup

Four days ago, the final roster for the U.S. women’s indoor World Cup team was named. There were three changes in the main roster from the qualifying team that won the Pan American Hockey Federation’s Indoor Cup last fall for the first time.

Into the side comes high-school phenom Abby Pitcairn, who missed the entire varsity season with a lower-body injury. Also added to the team were Stanford freshmen Corinne Zanolli and Sarah Johnson.

These three additions are going to have to go some in order to match the efforts of their teammates, your current continental champions. However, I think Pitcairn is going to be the major X-factor, an extra piece of the puzzle that hasn’t been scouted by the opposition.

The States begin pool play Feb. 7th against Belarus. The Americans may be ranked the lowest of all of the World Cup teams at the tournament, but think of this: the States made the top 12 despite being ranked 20th in the world. Any result in this tournament is a bonus over and above what was accomplished in the Pan American Cup. Still, with a touch of luck, the United States could finish in the top four of the pool and qualify for the quarterfinals.

 

Jan. 13, 2018 — Keith Jackson, 1928-2018

For most young people born at a certain time and living in a certain area of the country, there was only one voice of college football: Keith Jackson, who died last evening at the age of 89.

Jackson was full of folksy metaphors, such as: “This is going to be a barnburner that’s going to take the first eight rows of the cornfield with it.”

But if there’s one Jacksonism that has stuck with me in my writing, it’s been the phrase “a horse and a half.” Often, I find myself amplifying some aspect of a game that I’ve watched with the phrase “and a half.” A great lacrosse dodge is “a move and a half.” A good scorer in field hockey is “a finisher and a half.”

And that’s led the way to one of this site’s aphorisms. It states that a goal in the first or last five minutes of a half are worth a goal and a half psychologically to the team that has scored it.

As much as Jackson is synonymous with college football, he covered 11 World Series and 10 Olympics, plus he also formed a quirky partnership calling NASCAR races with the recently retired Formula One World Champion, Jackie Stewart.

Jackson and Stewart formed a quirky partnership which called numerous motorsports events together including a number of Indy 500s, the International Race of Champions, and taped coverage of racing on ABC’s Wide World of Sports, ranging from Darlington to Monaco.

But as much as Jackson is known for the way he has delivered his words, he should also be known as how understated he was during some of the memorable events he called. For Reggie Jackson’s third home run in Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, all you could hear him say was “High.” He let Howard Cosell and Tom Seaver do the rest as Jackson’s ball sailed into the “batter’s eye” seats in center field and the Yankee Stadium crowd went absolutely bonkers.

It was part of his mantra: “Amplify, clarify, punctuate. Don’t intrude.”

And it’s a lesson many of his contemporaries might want to learn.