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August 10, 2022 — גביע גדול לקבוצת הוקי שדה אמריקאית

I didn’t want to go too much further without acknowledging an unprecedented achievement by an American field hockey team at a world competition last month.

For it was in the 21st Maccabiah Games in Jerusalem where the United States bested Argentina 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a 2-2 tie at the end of regulation play, winning its first gold medal in the Games. It is also the first time a U.S. national team has won a world title in any field hockey competition.

The Maccabiah Games are a quadrennial multisport athletic competition for Jewish athletes. Starting in 1932, it has grown to become one of the three biggest sporting events in the world outside the Olympics, drawing roughly 10,000 of participants from around the world. The Games today are organized by the International Maccabiah Committee and are sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and World Federation of Sports.

As such, field hockey has been part and parcel of the Games for decades, but the Americans, despite sending some great players to Israel to compete, have come up short of gold.

Not this time.

The United States, in the opening match of pool play, served notice on the rest of the field with a 10-0 shutout of Australia. The States were unbeaten until the final day of pool play, where they lost 5-0 to Argentina, the team’s Pan-American nemesis over the years.

The Stars and Stripes broke into the lead in the final when Dylan Breier, late of Louisville DuPont Manual (Ky.) connected in the 38th minutes. A second goal from Paige Forrester, a mechanical engineering undergrad at MIT, staked the Americans to a 2-0 lead.

The Albicelestes drew level, however, sending the game to overtime. After the two halves of overtime finished scoreless, the game went to the penalty shootout.

The game-winning effort came from Julia Freedman, an undergraduate at Yale. The overall result is a step from the Americans’ silver-medal five years ago at the last Maccabiah Games.

A hearty “Well-played!” from this corner. Or should we say, “משוחק יפה“?

August 9, 2022 — Two imminent exits in the women’s sports world

More than two decades ago, Sue Bird was written up in the forgotten magazine Sports Illustrated On Campus, where she was labeled as “the most popular team-sport athlete of all time.” This was even before she had dribbled a basketball for the United States Olympic Team or for any WNBA team.

Today, Serena Williams dropped an interview (well, a first-person account) of her intention to retire in, of all places, Vogue Magazine..

This summer is likely to be the summer of discontent for fans of two of the greats in the history of American women’s sports. Both have, for better or worse, done it their way. And they’ve done it in completely opposite ways.

Sue Bird plays a team sport. Serena Williams plays an individual sport (albeit she has done quite well in team scenarios such as doubles, World Team Tennis, and the Fed Cup).

Sue Bird is from New York, Serena Williams is from Los Angeles.

Bird is Caucasian; Williams is Black.

Bird is an out lesbian, married to U.S. women’s soccer midfielder Megan Rapinoe. Williams is married to Internet investor Alexis Ohanian, and the two have a child together.

Bird is an even-keeled player who has never averaged more than two personal fouls per game in her entire career, and has maybe one technical foul called against her in her entire career. Williams, however, can show anger on the tennis court, and has, on more than occasion, received penalties for on-court conduct which resulted in her losing matches at the U.S. Open.

These two women — these two champions — are about to step off their respective courts for the final time. Bird, at the end of the Seattle Storm’s playoff run. and Williams, at the end of her U.S Open run.

Each will be celebrated in their own way.

But they will be remembered as out-and-out winners.

As it should be.

Aug. 8, 2022 — Hard to fathom

The history of the Commonwealth Games has been one of frustration for the women of England.

Since field hockey became a medal sport at Kuala Lampur 1998, Team England has never failed to make the medal stand on the women’s side, but were winless in three trips to the final.

That is, until yesterday. England, with four debutantes filling in for Team GB members who left the team after Tokyo, played confident and skilled hockey in beating Australia 2-1.

For the most part, however, the game did not play out like a one-goal game. England kept the Hockeyroos at bay with possession, and goalie Maddie Hinch saw barely a shot through three-quarter time.

That allowed Holly Hunt and Tess Howard to net the game-winners in the second quarter only a few minutes apart.

The result is unprecedented, yet puzzling. England/Team GB has won a number of world trophies over the years, including the Rio Olympics. But the British Isles have never won an FIH World Cup. Indeed, after winning seven IFWHA championships through 1975, the Roses have seen their tournament luck run cold.

It’s an interesting time for women’s field hockey in England and Great Britain. With expectations at an all-time high for the national women’s soccer team after the recent Euro title, it will be interesting to see whether the best female athletes will be picking up a hockey stick as a first option.

Aug. 7, 2022 — Might the Commonwealth Games have hit on something for the future?

Today is the penultimate day of the Commonwealth Games, the multisport athletic competition for athletes representing nations in the British empire. Starting in 1930 as The Empire Games, these have gradually grown to be one of the major non-Olympic competitions, and a place to demonstrate sports which were introduced to other nations under British hegemony, such as lawn bowling, T-20 cricket, and netball.

But since 2002, the Commonwealth Games program has also included Para sports — not a separate Para Commonwealth Games, but competitions run at the same time as unclassified athletes.

This is something not done in the Olympics, or within many athletic competitions. Indeed, when it comes to one of the more important athletic pursuits — track and field — the world championships were held last month in Oregon, but the Para track and field championships will be held two years from now in Japan.

You might ask whether holding a unified Olympics with unclassified sport and Para sport might have a chance to occur. As a show of acceptance of the Paralympic movement, I think this would be an awesome step. But I also recognize that the presentation of the Olympic and Paralympic programs side-by-side over the course of 16 days may be a near-impossible task.

First off, you have the previous limits as to the amount of total athletes who can appear at any one Olympic games, which is roughly 11,000. Adding the Paralympic athlete roster would bump the number of athletes to some 15,000. That’s a sizable group to house and feed in the Olympic Village.

Second, there’s the time factor. If you wanted to be able to get in all of the 100-meter races for the various classifications, you would have to hold 18 different events, including heats and semifinals leading to the medal races.

Finally, not all Para competitions use the same competition surfaces as their Olympic counterparts. Sure, a volleyball court can double as a goal-ball field, and a basketball court can hold a wheelchair rugby tournament, but that isn’t always the case.

But there’s one thing that a merger of the Olympics and Paralympics could do: expand the Games from 16 days to, say, a month. That’s what the World Cup’s footprint is on the schedule, and I don’t see any reason to think that a monthlong Olympics couldn’t work.

Aug. 6, 2022 — A tone-deaf response to a #MeToo moment

Today, a student-run Internet newspaper called The Tab published a disturbing account of the cover-up of sexual assault on the part of members of the University College London lacrosse club teams.

The main thrust of the story is that the president of the women’s lacrosse team at UCL attempted to have a female player removed from the club after she went to authorities with an accusation of assault, allegedly by a member of the men’s lacrosse club.

The reporting in this story has uncovered a deeply-entrenched culture of toxicity within the team, which involved plying alcohol to first-year students, which are referred to as “Freshers.”

“Binge drinking is actively encouraged,” according to an unidentified member of the club. “It enables people to act badly because the worst side of them comes out. All the club care about is their reputation. If silencing women is what they need to do then they will do it.”

Reporting on the issue has already resulted in the resignation of the men’s president, and the women’s club president has also been pressured to step down.

“It’s a very laddie culture,” a member of a previous steering committee for the UCL lacrosse club tells The Tab. “I don’t think a lot of the guys understand how their behavior is misogynistic and creates that environment.”

It’s pretty amazing that, several years after the Me Too movement in the United States upended a number of careers in industry, sports, the Arts, and general society, the same behavior is being replicated and extended.

It is, to be sure, discouraging.

Aug. 5, 2022 — The definition of “television” is evolving rapidly

Part of the idea of television is to be able to turn it on and tune it into an event which is scheduled for a certain time of day. “Five o’clock, time for Wapner!” is a line from the movie Rain Man, and it neatly shows the social compact that we consumers have had with broadcast networks over the years.

Part of that social compact has been changed in the last few years with the invention of “time-shifting” technologies like the video cassette recorder, the DVD machine, and even TiVo, which allowed you to, say, watch The Arsenio Hall Show at 10 a.m. the next morning after recording it the night before (in the early days of my work in the dailies, I did it).

But these days, time-shifting takes the form of various digital networks which can be found on devices like the Roku or the Amazon Firestick. There are also subscription services like Hulu, Paramount Plus, and Peacock, which require fees to watch them.

This week, a number of upheavals have occurred in this world of time-shifting television.

First, after 57 years of being on over-the-air television, the soap opera “Days of Our Lives” is moving behind the Peacock paywall and being replaced by a one-hour news program. This is odd to me on more than one level because, way back in the heart of the late-night TV wars, NBC wound up having to try to fill an hour of programming left by the departure of Jay Leno back to The Tonight Show back in 2010 with news programming.

Second, there was an announced merger of the digital networks of Home Box Office and the Discovery Channel. Thing is, I’m not sure whether the accumulation of content will help anyone’s bottom line, since cable users already with certain HBO packages get HBO Max for free. I’m not sure whether that will put more eyes on the U.S. men’s soccer team, many of whose games go to HBO Max starting after the World Cup.

Third, the ABC ratings-grabber Dancing With The Stars is now going behind the Disney Plus paywall. I wonder if this means that ABC’s grand experiment in taking Monday Night Football off over-the-air television is an abject failure.

Finally, you’re seeing a number of streaming exclusives this year. Major League Baseball has been running a Sunday afternoon game on Peacock. The NFL Thursday night game is going from Fox to Amazon Prime. I wonder what the overall effect on ratings will be for these two behemoths of American sports culture.

I know that for most television executives, they’re seeing the future in streaming their content to mobile phones. Thing is, I’m not sure there is enough 5G data for that, especially when there are large stretches of the country that do not get this kind of service.

Which makes you wonder: what if they broadcast a Super Bowl and nobody had the opportunity to view it?

Aug. 4, 2022 — Brittney Griner and a Hobson’s choice

There has already been a Twitter explosion this afternoon after Brittney Griner, the center for the U.S. women’s national basketball team, was sentenced to some nine years in prison for the possession of CBD products.

Media and pundits have already laid out glib solutions as to whether or not Griner should be involved in a prisoner exchange with Russia involving notorious arms trader Viktor Bout.

But somehow, I think this is too little of an endgame. Especially for someone like Vladimir Putin, who has been desperate enough in trying to regain its role as a world superpower that it is throwing its prestige, its soldiers, and its munitions into trying to take back one of its former Soviet socialist republics, The Ukraine.

I think, in the grand chess match, Putin wants something more significant. And it’s something he does not have right now.

That is, the full participation of Russians in most forms of organized sport.

Right now, Russians are personae non gratae in everything from the World Cup to Wimbledon to the Olympics. Of course, the reason for this is self-induced: a massive collusive conspiracy to not only provide performance-enhancing drugs, but to subterfuge the World Anti-Doping Agency’s testing regimen through substituting clean urine to laboratories.

Russian athletes in many different sporting endeavors have had to resort to many different tactics in order to be able to compete. In many multisport competitions, Russian nationals have had to compete as unaffiliated. In the last two Olympics, Russians have worn the uniform of the Russian Olympic Committee.

Others have declared for other former Iron Curtain countries such as Georgia, Belarus Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine.

Now, I don’t think anything is going to happen in the Griner situation until a substantial escalation of demands happens. I think that a shortening of the worldwide ban on Russian athletes is going to be on the table.

We’ll see what happens.

Aug. 3, 2022 — Who has the real pulse on scholastic sport in the U.S.?

I wrote yesterday about how USA Today, a national newspaper which is now supported by a network of local papers in the Gannett chain, handed out the awards for the finest high-school athletes in numerous athletic pursuits for the 2021-22 academic year.

You might think that, with 100 affiliates in the daily ranks and 1,000 weekly newspapers, that it would have the kind of necessary reach to pick the best scholastic athletes.

But does that reach actually reach everybody? We wrote a year ago about Fran Frieri, who had just broken the record for the most goals scored in a girls’ lacrosse season. She had mentioned that the local newsgathering organization covering Lockport, Ill. had shuttered during the pandemic.

And I have a feeling Lockport is not alone.

I have seen a number of journalistic organizations come and go over the years. I’ve seen the debut and denouement of numerous high-school sports shows, whether on ESPN and on local TV sponsored by newspapers like The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post.

And regrettably, I have seen more than one field hockey-centric sports website come and go over the last quarter-century.

I’ve been very lucky to be able to put my pulse on both field hockey and lacrosse nationwide over the last 24 years, and to be able to see people who carried the torch for their respective activity either as a player or in the coaching box.

One thing I’m also seeing in the last year or so, however, are players who are literally making themselves into a brand. We’ve seen female athletes making more than a million dollars from telecommunications companies by making content extolling the virtues of mobile technology.

We’ve also seen “influencers” who, by virtue of the number of followers on their social media sites, can not only make money from the companies with which they partner, but can also create worldwide markets for those companies through a well-targeted video or picture.

And you know something? It’s being allowed through the rules of not only the NCAA, but by state governing bodies of sport.

Want some context? Have a look at this map, generated by OpenDorse.com:

In this map, wide swaths of football country from Arizona to Florida up to Ohio do not allow high-school students to make money off their name, likeness, and image. There are, however, some states such as California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, which do allow NLI rights.

It’s led to some interesting developments. One saw a top football prospect from Texas deciding to forego his senior year at his local school to sign an NLI deal worth more than $1 million.

We also saw Ashley Sessa, the talismanic forward who has been playing in the U.S. system to the point where she has 11 national-team caps, sign a deal with STX, wearing socks with that logo along with her Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) uniform last fall.

I have a feeling this is going to be the next big thing in scholastic sport.

Aug. 2, 2022 — Some well-deserved hardware

Over the weekend, USA Today presented its annual high-school sports awards, which covers a pretty wide panoply of scholastic sports.

I don’t know if the selectors have been following this site, but I do find it interesting that the national scoring champions for girls lacrosse and field hockey — Fran Frieri and Ryleigh Heck — won the national player of the year in both sports.

Why? If you went by the pool of players listed as nominees for each sport, as well as the three finalists in each sport, you’d be pretty amazed.

Frieri, who wasn’t selected for the Under Armour All-America Game, beat out two players who did: Kori Edmonson of Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) and Peep Williams of Binghamton Seton Catholic (N.Y.). But also in the pool of nominees are a number of players who are going to become part of the national scene very soon, such as Madison Beale of Brooklandville St. Paul’s (Md.), Shea Dolce of Darien (Conn.), and Caroline Godine of Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.).

Heck, who was just recently selected to the U.S. senior women’s national team pool, had to beat out Maci Bradford of Delmar (Del.) and Alaina McVeigh of Gwynedd Valley Gwynedd-Mercy Academy (Pa.) in the group of finalists. But also in the group of nominees was Ashley Sessa of Newtown Square Episcopal Academy (Pa.) and Josie Hollamon of Delmar (Del.), both of whom are also in the U.S. women’s national team pool. Too, one of the nominees was fellow 100-goal scorer Talia Schenck of Lawrence (N.J.).

Fran Frieri and Ryleigh Heck are headed off to their respective universities to start preseason: Frieri with lacrosse at Notre Dame, Heck with field hockey at North Carolina. Fair or not, both will have outsized expectations on their performances at the college level.

But I have a feeling that a lot of the other field hockey and lacrosse players who were nominated for the USA Today Awards are also going to be preparing for some absolutely boffo debut seasons during the 2022-23 college year.

Aug. 1, 2022 — Some annual housekeeping

Hi, all. As the domestic field hockey season begins this month with college friendlies as well as the Apple Tournament and the Gateway Invitational, our site is going its usual changeover from field hockey to lacrosse.

We’ll have our Fearless 5ive previews for NCAA Division I, II, and III, and we’ll also have our back-of-the-envelope preseason Top 10 towards the end of the month. On which platform we’re going to be releasing these, that’s yet to be determined.

We’re also keeping an eye on the transfer portal, which really altered the landscape of college sports and could give the first-year Clemson program a rocket boost of talent that other recent startups never had.

Now, you’ll notice in our Chasing History section to the right of this story, we’ve changed the listings of the inactive players from orange to black as the achievements of last year’s seniors blend into history.

This includes field hockey’s Ryleigh Heck and lacrosse’s Fran Frieri, both of whom set records during the past academic year.

And it seems these records have gotten their holders a certain degree of attention. More on that tomorrow.