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Archive for Omnibus

Feb. 22, 2018 — Not to be outdone, a 20-year streak falls by the wayside

Late last evening, the United States women’s Olympic ice hockey team won the gold medal at PyeongChang 2018, which is just about 500 miles and 20 years from where the United States last won Olympic gold in Nagano, Japan.

For much of the last 20 years, the rivalry between the U.S. and Canada in women’s ice hockey has been skillful, fierce, full of gamesmanship, and with a particular twist in terms of the tale. Whereas Canada was the dominant force in the early days of full international play under the aegis of the IIHF, winning the first eight titles, the United States could claim the biggest win in that time frame with its gold-medal win at Nagano.

But since Canada won at Salt Lake 2002, it has been the United States which has been winning at the World Championship level, winning eight titles to Canada’s three. But Canada has also been able to point to four consecutive wins at the Olympics — Salt Lake, Torino, Vancouver, and Sochi.

As is usual in Olympic play, one key was having a player who may have had less experience in goal, but who knew well enough what the stakes were. In 1998, it had been Sarah Teuting, who only played three more years with the team before starting her own life-coaching business in Utah. In this Olympics, it was Maddie Rooney, who had only learned a few days before the semifinal that she would be the starter for the final.

Rooney was magnificent throughout, making one impossible save in overtime when she flung her stick to her right and deflected the puck behind her, parallel to the goal line, and away to the far corner. It was that close to being Canada’s game-winner.

Instead, it was Rooney who came up trumps in the shootout, stopping perhaps the greatest women’s hockey player of all time in Meghan Agosta in the sixth round.

Rooney, a junior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, had the demeanor that head coach Robb Stauber has seen in some of the greats.

“She has a very good presence about her, a very good demeanor for a goalie,” Stauber tells The Duluth News-Tribune. “If something happens in a game and the puck goes in, whether it’s a great shot or not even a great shot and the puck still ends up in the net, she has the ability to let it go. You need that in critical moments and times.”

And Rooney certainly did the job.

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Feb. 20, 2018 — Another shoe drops at Louisville

There have been a number of embarrassing episodes within the athletics department at the University of Louisville lately. There were months of rumors overhanging the women’s lacrosse team, culminating in an exodus of players and the replacement of the head coach.

But those headlines were absolutely trumped by the scandal surrounding the men’s basketball team. The program was embroiled in allegations regarding prostitution, sexual misconduct on the part of head coach Rick Pitino, and corrupt behavior by four assistant coaches.

Today, the NCAA came down hard, stripping Louisville of its 2013 national championship and 123 wins between 2011 and 2015.

But the vacating of wins, frankly, doesn’t mean much when it comes to the business of college sports these days.

Think of this: back in 1986, the second-place vote-getter in the Heisman Trophy was a tailback from Temple University named Paul Palmer. But you won’t find part of his official records: everything he did during the 1986 season was vacated because he was found in violation of NCAA rules for signing with a sports agent.

And yet, despite having a good chunk of his record vacated, Palmer was recently elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Makes you wonder whether the NCAA punishment will have any effect whatsoever on the behavior of the people who run college basketball.

Feb. 9, 2018 — The overall themes of the PyeongChang Olympics

This morning was the opening ceremony for the 23rd Winter Olympics, held a scant 40 miles from a place which has been a war zone for nearly 70 years.

PyeongChang is located in the northeast part of South Korea, a bit of a ways away from the ocean, where plenty of cold and snow already exist.

Over the next three weeks will be thrilling competition. And, I think, there will be some interesting themes:

1. The Asia Era. Even though the Olympics are going through an Asian phase with the next three major Olympics in Korea, Japan, and China, I don’t think we will see quite the bump that occurred in Beijing 2008, where it seemed every single event had a Chinese athlete or team in medal contention. The cautionary tale, however, is the followup for many of these athletes. China was second in field hockey in 2008, but have not been close to the same form the last eight years. Also, have you heard a single peep out of Jia Tian and Jie Wang, the volleyball finalists who were beaten by Kerri Walsh and Misty May? That’s because, between the two of them, they played in exactly three events after 2008.

2. Eurocentricity. The time is coming where more and more skiers and skaters are coming from mountainous countries which have not as of yet been powerhouses in winter sports. Places like Slovenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, and Iceland are looking to muscle in on the territory usually held by Sweden, Holland, Finland, and Norway. With more money coming into the Olympics from Europe than any other continent, I’ll be interested to see the caliber of athlete coming from many of the post-Soviet countries.

3. Diversity. This year, Bolivia and Ecuador make their Olympic debuts. There will also be a Nigerian bobsled team. The usual climate of equatorial countries often makes it difficult for aspirants to the Winter Olympics, but climate change may play a much greater future role.

4. The steroid embarrassment. A few days ago, sharp words were exchanged about the International Olympic Committee’s decision to reinstate a small number of Russian athletes who were banned for steroid use. None other than former World Anti-Doping Agency head Richard Pound had these scathing words for the situation: “I believe that in the collective mind of a significant portion of the world, and among the athletes of the world, the I.O.C. has not only failed to protect athletes, but has made it possible for cheating athletes to prevail against the clean athletes. We talk more than we walk.” Let’s see what happens when the first O.A.R. (Olympic Athlete from Russia) tests dirty.

5. Reunification … to a point. Usually, the only reason to watch women’s ice hockey at the Olympics is to see the United States and Canada in the final. But there is a group of 20 women who are looking to change all that, and perhaps, the perception of the world. Meet Team Korea, which has 23 players from the South, and a dozen from the North. But the players aren’t living together during the Olympics; the North Koreans are being herded by minders to and from the Olympic sites, and about the only time the team is fully together is at practice. The team is wearing blue and red uniforms, the common colors of both of their flags. Tellingly, the team isn’t wearing orange, the color adopted by the unification movement on the peninsula.

6. And in other hockey …. This Olympics, professionals under contract to NHL teams are not being allowed to play, leaving behind journeymen from lower leagues, college players, and recent retirees such as Brian Gionta. A medal for either the United States of Canada would be a bonus since the best players are not in PyeongChang.

Feb. 1, 2018 — The thin lines of protection

This month’s website background includes a series of thin lines — one green, and one red and blue.

These are the thin lines representing Michigan State and U.S.A Gymnastics, and they are the thin lines which were supposed to protect their student athletes from all manner of sexual assault and other activities which were admitted to by former team physician Larry Nassar.

These thin green and red-and-blue lines, unlike the thin blue line of the police, failed the athletes.

It’s hoped that you remember this month just how fragile these lines are, especially when the people they represent are not given the professional respect and human resources needed to fully investigate the number of reported incidents, which are now numbering more than 260.

Someone in these two thin lines could have blown the whistle on Nassar. It’s stupefying that nobody did.

Jan. 29, 2018 — No higher truth

This past week, an article in The Nation published a devastating quote attributed to Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a lawyer, former Olympic swimmer, and former President of the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Here is what she said about the environment which has led to the situation involving not only Larry Nassar, but hundreds of coaches across the country who have been convicted of child sexual abuse over the last 30 years:

The Olympic sports movement is a pedophile’s dream set-up. Families are expected to give complete control over to the coach, often times banning parents from watching practices. Emotional abuse is considered “motivation,” and there is almost no coaching oversight from sport governing bodies like U.S. Soccer. To make matters worse, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s official legal position is that the organization doesn’t protect athletes from sexual abuse, that removing pedophiles from the Olympic movement isn’t their job. Really. If that doesn’t raise the hair on your neck, consider that club owners are for-profit businesses and have zero economic incentive to report sexual abuse to police or child services. The bad PR could cost them dearly if word of the abuse got out. Club owners frequently fire the abusing coach quietly, and he is hired at another club, becoming someone else’s problem.

Consider how many examples these words clarify when you look at the backstory of people like former U.S. field hockey player Todd Broxmeyer, who held a different coaching or teaching position seemingly every year from 1993 to the year of his arrest, 2007. Or when you look at Norman Watson, who preyed on neighboring Little League teams pretty much unabated for years.

Today, Congress is likely to rush through a bill which makes child sexual abuse and assault a mandatory reporting crime. It’s a step, but only a symbolic one without the prosecutorial and judicial teeth behind it. Congress might do better by filling out the judiciary, which has numerous unfilled seats but whose nominees are tied up in procedural knots.

Jan. 27, 2018 — Where will the trail lead?

The fallout from the sentencing of former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State team doctor Larry Nassar on sexual assault and child pornography charges has started to gain momentum.

Over the last day or so:

  • Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon resigned;
  • Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis announced his near-instant retirement;
  • The balance of the USA Gymnastics Board of Directors entered their resignation, following what the executive committee did two days ago
  • The U.S. Congress, the U.S Department of Justice, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the NCAA, and the Michigan Attorney General all announced the start of investigations into the matter
  • A bombshell report from ESPN accuses members of the Michigan State football and men’s basketball teams of sex assaults, and accuses the athletic department of protecting the student-athletes from prosecution.

It’s the last story that should shake every NCAA Division I institution to its very core.

Since the 1960s, many universities have used female “hostesses” as chaperones for student visits and as guides during the first weeks of school. It’s not known how many interactions between students and these hostesses crossed the line into sex assaults, but a spate of incidents in the early 2000s shone a harsh light on the practice.

The student-athletes in the revenue sports have also received a different level of treatment from campus law enforcement from the rest of the student body.

And it’s these kinds of practices which have led to lax oversight of athletic departments and teams, leading to the likes of Larry Nassar being hired at Michigan State.

I’m likely to see the names of people I have gotten to know over the last 20 years being splashed in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Get ready. This is going to get ugly.

Jan. 25, 2018 — Fiddling while a league burns

The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) is stumbling towards the start of its sixth season, with financial instability racking a number of clubs.

The offseason has seen F.C. Kansas City made a middle-of-the-night move to Salt Lake City to become the Utah Royals, and as early as tomorrow the Boston Breakers might fold.

The thing is, this turmoil is needless. There are groups of well-heeled soccer-committed people in both cities who should have already turned up to help out, but who have thus far not done so.

In Kansas City, the owners of Sporting Kansas City took a hand-off from Lamar Hunt himself, then invested about $200 million in building and maintaining a soccer-specific stadium for the men’s pro side. But when FCKC, having won two NWSL championships, was looking for an investor to keep them in the city, the ownership group of four (since the death last year of chairman Neal Patterson) sat idly by.

And one can say the same about Bob Kraft, the owner of the New England Revolution who just happens to also own the New England Patriots, one of the most successful professional sports franchises on the planet. How successful? The team’s top player, Tom Brady, commands a hefty $20.5 million per season. That amount of money can keep one NWSL team afloat, on the current salary cap of $278,000, for 73 years.

Kraft has kept silent about taking over the ownership of the Breakers, even as rumors of a stadium deal in Dorchester, Mass. have been flying across the Boston airwaves and newspaper pages like a Brady touchdown pass.

Question is, will there be an NWSL team to play in that new stadium?