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Archive for Omnibus

April 5, 2021 — A major change in American soccer

This morning, it was announced that a number of soccer leagues in the United States, including the NWSL, MLS, the National Independent Soccer Association, and the United Soccer Leagues, will be participating in a pilot program to manage in-competition head injuries.

Under the rules, teams will still be allowed to substitute up to five players in three distinct windows. But the rules here in the U.S. will allow up to two concussion substitutions for players suspected of having received a concussion.

These two substitutes are can occur whenever a concussion occurs or is suspected, even after a player has been assessed and has returned to the field of play (similar to the James Rodriguez situation during the 2014 World Cup).

Under the regulations, whenever a concussion substitute is used by one team, the opposing team is allowed an additional substitute in addition to its original five.

Concussions have become a going concern in worldwide soccer because of not only some high-profile players having received them in World Cup tournaments, but also because of repeated head traumas by former players who have died from dementia brought on by chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The players who have come out as having post-concussion syndrome, such as former England internationals Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles, played soccer with a heavy leather ball and, until the mid-60s, no substitutes except for an injury to a goalkeeper.

Today’s game comes with a much lighter soccer ball, but one which goes faster. Too, the caliber of athlete contesting for header is a lot better, meaning that any collision between players is likely to be more injurious to the heads of the players. I have seen players running headlong into goalposts, players lowering their heads for a header only to be met by an opposing boot. and players jumping into each other for headers, all of which have led to some nasty injuries.

The new substitution rule is a great idea for pro teams to manage head injuries. Let’s see how quickly these become written into the universal Laws of the Game.

March 31, 2021 — Thoughts for a designated day of visibility

Today is the annual Transgender Day of Visibility, which comes at an interesting time in American history.

In a number of states, activists and lobbyists have been proferring and pushing through laws which seek to do the clumsy work of trying to define who gender non-conforming people actually are.

I say “clumsy,” because the “trans” person of today isn’t as simple as the Hollywood trope of the transvestite, someone who dresses in the other gender’s clothing. These days, there are persons who may have undergone gender reassignment to become the other gender.

But there are also a number of occasions of persons born with genetic changes which may have any number of reasons, including the environment, relaxed regulations on blood tests for marriage licenses, and also relaxed regulations on the marriage of first cousins.

There are hundreds of thousands of what can be called “trans” youth all across America. There are different names for them: genderfluid, non-binary, intersex, etc. A number of states, however, see threats to people who are gender-conforming. Activists and lawmakers have actually been able to pass anti-trans legislation in a number of states.

These activists and lawmakers couch their rhetoric in mostly two scenarios: the effect of transgender people on women’s sports, and which bathroom transgender people can use at the mall.

Now, I can understand what could happen with mixed-gender athletic competitions, especially in competitions where size, strength, and speed are prized. But recent moves by the WNBA, the NWSL, and the International Amateur Athletics Federation have shown that it is the ruling bodies of sport who should be the ultimate arbiters of who should participate in a particular event, and not the government.

The same can be said for public accommodations and even gender-affirming health care, the latter of which is under threat in Arkansas.

The problem, it says here, is that these laws are solutions in search of a problem. Trans people are already among us, and don’t intend harm to others.

Trans people are people, and it is not the job of self-styled culture warriors backed with the infinite power of the state to become bathroom police, health-care police, or sports participation police.

March 24, 2021 — An appreciation: Tiana Mangakahia, point guard, Syracuse

One in an occasional series.

Syracuse University is a school which has billed itself as a “student-centered research university.” Like many large universities in the United States, it is well-known for its sports programs. This has included a lot of men’s sports, but in the last few years, the women’s basketball team has emerged as a contender for league and national honors, making the national title game in 2016.

Yesterday, the Orange found themselves on the wrong end of an 83-47 decision against the University of Connecticut. It is the third time in the last six years that UConn ended the Orange’s season. On the face of it, this is to be expected, given the number of blue-chip recruits who come to Storrs every year to play at Connecticut.

But Syracuse was led in yesterday’s defeat by a player who not only came to the university through a different patch, but who had a highly unconventional athletics career.

Meet Tiana Mangakahia, who came to the Syracuse program through a highly indirect path.

Mangakahia from Brisbane, Australia, and came to America in 2015 with the goal of improving her basketball prowess and academics by attending Hutchinson Community College in Kansas.

Junior college is often used by male athletes to catch up on college credits in revenue sports like football and men’s basketball before transitioning to a Division I university. On the women’s side, this is much rarer. But upon settling into the Syracuse program in 2017, she showed off her skills. She led the country in assists and scored 44 points in one game.

Mangakahia faced a dual obstacle, however, before her senior season, which would started in the fall of 2019. That summer, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, which forced her into chemotherapy treatments as well as a double mastectomy. She was already supposed to have sat out that season, only for the COVID-19 epidemic to end not only the women’s basketball season, but all NCAA sports for the 2019-2020 academic year.

She came back for her delayed senior season and was magnificent for a Syracuse team that made it to the second round of the NCAA Division I Tournament. She scored a shade over 11 points per game and had double-digits in assists six times. And she also played a very clean game of basketball: she fouled out only four times in her entire Syracuse career.

Now, we don’t know whether or not we’ll be seeing this plucky guard in either the WNBA or Australia’s WNBL, or perhaps somewhere overseas come this summer. But what we do know is that, wherever she goes, it will be the unconventional way.

March 9, 2021 — A nightmare culture

The Boston Breakers were a women’s professional soccer franchise which played in several leagues between 2001 and 2017. It was an original member of the WUSA, then after a six-year hiatus, the team came back as a WPS franchise. After the league folded in the wake of the Dan Borislow disaster, the team joined the Women’s Premier Soccer League Elite flight before transitioning to the National Women’s Soccer League, where it remained until the franchise folded after the 2017 season.

Throughout its reboot, the Breakers franchise had its challenges as well as a culture which was not normal amongst sports teams, especially in the nascent women’s sports culture of the last quarter-century. Players took to social media to complain about the playing surface at Dillboy Stadium in Somerville, Mass., the team’s home ground for its first NWSL season. One particular photo, showing the bloody and scarred legs of U.S. national team forward Sydney Leroux, went viral.

Despite the allocation of players like Leroux, Rhian Wilkinson, Heather Mitts, and Heather O’Reilly, the Breakers failed to make the NWSL playoffs in five consecutive seasons, the last four with the side in double-digits in losses.

One can speculate as to why the product on the field did not succeed, a pair of news items over the last few weeks are shedding new light as to the dysfunctional culture of the team.

The first story surrounds Federal visa fraud charges surrounding members of the Breakers’ organization. The charge originally named Justin Capell, an employee of youth soccer organization Global Premier Soccer in Waltham, Mass. The documents, filed in the District of Massachusetts, allege that Capell conspired with two unnamed members of the Breakers front office and an immigration attorney to get work visas for hundreds of employees working for Global Premier Soccer.

The scheme was meant to bring in foreign coaches for GPS through fraudulent visa applications and falsified coaching resumes. It kind of reminds me of some of the visa fraud cases which resulted in the closure of a number of diploma mills a decade ago because the “universities” never taught any students, but existed solely to bring immigrants to the United States on student visas.

Another story has come to light in the pages of a tell-all book called “Raising Tomorrow’s Champions,” written by former pro soccer player Joanna Lohman. In it, she tells the story of how Tom Durkin, coach until his departure in 2015, was tyrannical and often abusive towards his players.

In one incident, Durkin instructed Lohman, the Breakers’ defensive central midfielder, to remain in the center circle (or at least in close proximity thereof) at all times. “If you decide to dribble up the field and you lose the ball,” he said, “you can slit your own throat.”

With this kind of team leadership, it’s no wonder that nobody has stepped up to reboot the franchise. But with three-plus years after the folding of the last iteration, I wonder if another owner with deep pockets (are you listening, Bob Kraft?) could step in with the resources, knowledge of how to run a team in a major city, and the willingness to vet co-owners for financial stability.

Feb. 27, 2021 — Using a worldwide pandemic as a pretense

The ballooning of the COVID-19 pandemic over the last year has been tragic and deadly. There have been more than 114 million confirmed cases worldwide, and the death toll in the United States has reached the half-million mark. As much as the virus outbreak has affected people, it has affected the world economy and affected the direction of nation-states.

But I think what the pandemic is going to be remembered for is the damage to the economy. Many stores, restaurants, and other businesses have closed. There have been more than $7.4 billion of losses for arts organizations in New York City alone. Those businesses which haven’t already been pushed over the edge are still precariously perched on the edge of having to close.

Regrettably, a number of Coronavirus-related shutdowns were shown to be not entirely based on economic necessity, but the pandemic was used as a pretense for the closure.

Some of the more egregious cases were the rash of sports cut by American colleges and universities. More than 200 sports teams have been cut in from four-year colleges in the NCAA and NAIA, everything from Akron’s golf teams to Stanford’s field hockey team.

And yet, there have been a number of backtracking from some of these cuts in recent months. William & Mary reinstated its cut teams last November, and Brown reinstated five sports after a threatened Title IX lawsuit.

Which brings us to a strange situation in the world of soccer. Yesterday, it was announced that Ron Burkle, the majority investor of a potential MLS franchise in Sacramento (with a possible NWSL team in the same stadium), was pulling out of the investment group for the team. One reason cited in yesterday’s statement from Major League Soccer: the Coronavirus pandemic:

Earlier today, Ron Burkle informed the League that based on issues with the project related to COVID-19, he has decided to not move forward with the acquisition of an MLS expansion team in Sacramento.

The original start date for the team was supposed to have been 2022, but the proposed stadium in the Sacramento Railyards district was behind because of issues with construction, presumably because of the hundreds of workers needed to build the project, which has not yet started.

But the pullout by Burkle is befuddling and saddening. Usually, deep-pocketed owners come into soccer franchises with a long-term vision. Regrettably, Burkle seems to be in the camp of the short-term strategy, used by the people who run hedge funds and other equity companies which have turned them into instant billionaires.

Which makes you wonder if Burkle’s financial empire is built on pillars of sand.

Feb. 25, 2021 — The erstwhile continental rival

Yesterday, with a 6-0 win over Argentina, the United States women’s national soccer team secured the 2021 She Believes Cup tournament, a tournament that simulates a World Cup group except for the number of substitutions allowed.

But there’s one team in this tournament that bears a bit of scrutiny when it comes to the future direction of its program. You see, it was eight summers ago that Canada was within 35 seconds of playing the United States to a 3-3 draw, which would have sent the Olympic semifinal match into penalty kicks.

For years, the Canadian women have given the U.S. some legendary matches. With players like Christine Latham, Kara Lang, Charmaine Hooper, and Christine Sinclair, the Maple Leafs have punished American mistakes and exposed weaknesses.

The problem is that Canada has not yet become that one team that the United States can use as a world-level measuring stick. Over the years, the U.S. has a record of 52 wins and seven draws against a mere three defeats. In other words, the United States and Canada are in a very unbalanced rivalry.

The team that Canada brought to the She Believes Cup was a very green team, and yet, they held the U.S. to a 1-0 result on a Rose Lavelle goal 11 minutes from the final whistle. Canada, however, did very little on the attack end. Even while chasing a result against Brazil yesterday, the team had its chances but looked amateurish on its finishes.

Christine Sinclair, obviously, will be a welcome return when she comes back from injury.

Feb. 23, 2021 — The fall of more than one Tiger

This afternoon’s news, both mainstream and in social media, has been speculation about whether an automobile accident involving Tiger Woods would spell the end of one of the greatest and socially transformative golf careers in the history of professional athletics.

But before breaking out statistics, moments, and bloviating statements about him, there is another golfer who was supposed to have the kind of game to be able to carve out an historical niche as great as Woods.

That golfer is Michelle Wie West. At the age of 10, she was the youngest golfer ever to qualify for a United States Golf Association-sanctioned event. She won the U.S. Amateur Public Links championship in 2003, the youngest ever to do so.

Turning pro at 16, she absorbed a lot of pressure to become the next Tiger Woods because of her physical gifts and her ability to strike a golf ball, sometimes upwards of 300 yards. It was because of her driving talent that West was pegged as one of many women who might have been capable of competing against men on the PGA Tour.

But by 2006, her early career was an exercise in wheel-spinning. She was too young to join the LPGA Tour, but she could receive sponsor exemptions to several pro tournaments. At one time, she played 14 consecutive rounds of tournament golf without breaking par, missing the cut in 11 out of 12 tries against men and not winning against either men or women.

West became an LPGA Tour member for the 2009 season, and played reasonably good golf. She won her first tournament in November 2009. Five years later, she won her first major, the U.S. Women’s Open.

It was noticeable, however, that her longest streak of consecutive cuts made in LPGA events was a 13-tourney streak during her time as an amateur. It’s amazing, with her physical gifts, that she didn’t make more consecutive appearances on Moving Day.

Since her last LPGA victory in 2018, West has seen her career ranking plummet to the world’s No. 497 golfer. Her game was affected by repeated wrist injuries, including a time when she was playing with three broken bones. She has also turned her attention to marriage, family, and working with the digital team for a national broadcaster.

West is, regrettably, one of a number of female athletes in the last quarter-century who has had unreasonable expectations placed upon them in their pre-teen years. I think more was written about Michelle Wie West and Tiger Woods by the time they turned professional than just about anyone else on the PGA or LPGA Tours.

While both have been winners on the golf course, the success they experienced has come at a cost to both of them. I’m hoping that the two of them come through these experiences as better people.

Feb. 8, 2021 — Comparisons for the sake of comparing

Late yesterday, a pair of legendary American sports figures continued their remarkable seam of form across the athletic universe.

While most folks will be thinking about how Tom Brady, a 43-year-old quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, helped engineer a seventh Super Bowl win last evening, let’s not forget what happened several hours later on a tennis court half a world away.

For it was in the first round of the Australian Open tennis tournament, the first major of 2021, where Serena Williams, she of the 23 major titles in singles play, who raised her record to 76-1 in the first round of major tournaments with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Laura Siegemund.

The Twitterverse has been trying to put superlatives on both Brady and Williams over the last couple of days or so; even trying to proffer whether one or the other is the greatest American athlete of all time.

Each have their own claims to greatness, as well as weaknesses in their arguments.

Serena Williams plays in a unique environment on the pro tennis tour. She has virtually no help while a tennis match is in progress, except for neutral help from a trainer or on-site doctor. She cannot receive coaching during matches, meaning that she is virtually alone out on the court. Meanwhile, Tom Brady’s greatness is found in the key quarterback-head coach relationships that he formed with Bill Belichick and Bruce Arians.

Tom Brady competes in sport where he can be hit by defenders from the other team at any time. However, his era (post-2000) was one where quarterbacks were heavily protected by rules changes disallowing hits to the head or below the knees. These rules, passed by the NFL Competition Committee, acknowledged that ticket sales, sponsorships, and luxury suite rentals were generated by successful personalities at the quarterback position. In other words, a season ticket for a team which is dependent upon a quarterback with previous injuries (especially concussions) is not worth as much as for a team whose starting quarterback plays all 16 games.

Serena Williams plays in a sport which requires her to travel to many nations in order to play. The four majors are contested on three continents, in four different countries. Too, these majors are played on three different surfaces: hardcourt, clay, and grass. She also is playing in an era in which an entire section of the sport — doubles — has been very much dominated by specialists. Despite this, Williams has won 18 women’s doubles and mixed doubles titles at major tournaments.

Mind you, neither athlete has been perfect in their lives. Three times, Serena Williams defaulted U.S. Open games at match point because of arguments with the chair umpire. In addition, Brady suffered a four-game suspension for ensuring that the footballs designated for his team in a 2015 playoff game were underinflated, making them easier to throw and catch.

But both have had a two-decade record of championship-level success in their respective athletic endeavors, each of which have their own sets of difficulties and barriers to that “elite” level.

They are leading a golden age of sport, along with personalities like Tiger Woods, Jimmie Johnson, LeBron James, Lionel Messi, Alex Ovechkin, Roger Federer, and Lewis Hamilton — all of whom are brands which transcend athletics.

Feb. 6, 2012 — Dianne Durham, 1968-2021

Before there was a Simone Biles, a Dominique Dawes, a Nia Dennis, or a Gabby Douglas, there was Dianne Durham.

Dianne Durham, who died this past week, was a trailblazer in what had been the virtual all-white sport of gymnastics. Durham had been one of the American gymnasts in the U.S. women’s team pool heading into the 1984 Olympic Trials before underrotating on her specialty event, the vault, damaging her ankle and rendering her off the mat for the critical weeks needed in order to qualify for the Olympic team in Los Angeles.

Mary Lou Retton took the top spot out of the Trials, and the rest was Olympic history. The unfortunate thing is that Summer Olympics fans were denied a chance to see both Durham and Retton on the same team. Imagine how the two of them would have fared against the boycott-weakened women’s gymnastics competition in Los Angeles.

But one should not discount Durham’s contribution to the sport. Upon her retirement, she served as a judge for competitions, and eventually started a gymnastics center in Chicago that operated for 17 years, and trained dozens of athletes for the next level. She remained to the end a role model for young gymnasts of color, including Douglas and Biles.

It is notable that Durham and Retton were the first two athletes identified by Bela and Martha Karolyi back in the early 1980s, and they developed a culture of success that would continue until the Karolyi Ranch was closed in the midst of the Larry Nassar scandal.

Part of me wonders what may have happened had Durham’s gym, Skyline, had not closed when the Nassar trial occurred in 2017.

Still, Durham’s tremendous strength and tumbling were unforgettable if you were witness to it. You may want to check YouTube for them. You’ll be amazed.

Feb. 1, 2021 — A new wrinkle

This month, the worlds of field hockey and women’s lacrosse intersect as NCAA competition in both sports will be taking place at the same time. You’re also going to see this happening in some competitive environments at U.S. high schools.

It’s a situation which is being addressed in some places if you drill down deeply enough into announcements regarding the reopening of sports seasons in various places. In games like field hockey and lacrosse, which use similar skill sets, I’ll be interested to see if you’re going to see legal action on the part of someone who is seeking to keep playing two sports at the same time.

This site, as you may have been noticing, has changed its look a little bit. We’re retaining our four-column look, and are trying to put our updated and permanent content links in common columns — field hockey in one, lacrosse in another, and the Omnibus Edition in a third.

But we’re also adding a feature which we were a little dubious about a few months ago, but we’re going to give it a go. Look up in the upper right corner of this site for our social media handles.

Yep, we’ve joined TikTok.

Why? We’ve dabbled in video every once in a while, and this worldwide social media platform is, I think, going to be an asset. What kind of asset, I’m not sure, since the life of a field hockey/lacrosse journalist doesn’t lend itself to novelty dances or silly stunts.

But look at our videos. We’ve taken the opportunity to upload a one-minute video that we pieced together as a concept for an advertisement for digital and public-access media. You’re going to see more of these in future.

Until then, please take the opportunity to give us a “follow” in our Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter feeds, and give us a like and share in our Facebook presence.