the intersection of sports and society.

sports has always been an outlet for me. i remember as a kid, playing sports was that one escape, whether it was playing basketball or baseball with my neighbors or trading cards with my friends.

i loved the element that sports brought into my life. the aspect of teamwork, the hard work, the dedication the elite athletes have toward their craft – all of this was inspiring to me. i always thought of sports as the one area of my life that couldn’t get messed with by “real life”.

and now…

we have donald sterling.

the ncaa.

social media.

tim tebow

johnny manziel.

it doesn’t really seem like it’s really about the game anymore. it seems like it is all about the money, the fame, how to get as many “likes” and “follows”.

sports has long played a huge role in society, of course. these days, its role is even more important

 jackie robinson, muhammad ali, jesse owens, joe louis.

these names are synonymous with sports and society. you cannot really think of one without how they spurred social change, or maybe simply social outrage in some cases. but now, it seems that what is important is not necessarily standing up for social change, but standing up for social media. it’s not about what good sports does for society anymore. the way issues are portrayed these days is embarrassing. what amounts to an issue – what is considered news – is even more embarrassing.

tim tebow prayed to jesus and that was considered controversial. why? who cares?

johnny manziel loves to party. so? why do we care so much?

it’s not just about how disgraceful it is that the dallas cowboys still call themselves ‘america’s team’ or that no one truly still likes the new york yankees (even though, as a detroit tigers fan, i still respect the yankees, 27 championships is… well… 27 championships).

it’s more than that.

we have always longed for our best athletes to take more of a social standing in our communities. we begged for michael jordan to make statements and take a stance on issues. i suppose he was right when he said “republicans buy shoes too”, but is it always about the shoes? probably today he would say something like “republicans have twitter too”. 

there is still more that can be done. i respect lebron james for organizing the miami heat’s stance for trayvon martin and again lebron and chris paul for speaking so strongly against donald sterling. the intersection between sports and society is as volatile as it has ever been. with the rise of social media and the access fans have to their favorite athletes, these stars have a much more important role in society than ever before.

the notion that athletes are just sports stars and should not be involved in society is silly.

i threw out donald sterling’s name (i’d like to just throw him out entirely). i don’t really have anything to add that hasn’t been said already. i’m just curious why it took a billionaire saying a mean thing about another wealthy person for anyone to notice what a deplorable man he is. because of his role in sports, there was an opportunity to expose him years ago. i suppose the articles that have been written about him over the years about his horrendous treatment of the impoverished were not enough. who cares about the poor right? it’s not so much of a race issue as it is a issue of classes.

rich vs. poor.

as long as we aren’t poor then as a society, i guess it doesn’t matter. insult a rich black man? an american icon? then we have a problem, don’t we?

sports and society will always be intertwined of course. i hope that we don’t lose sight of the importance that it plays.

time to be king.

alright. it’s time. 

anyone who knows me, knows that i’ve led the charge against Lebron James the past couple of years. it really hasn’t been that hard either. he’s made it quite easy the past few seasons, going back to his last years in Cleveland to the infamous “not 1, not 2, not 3…” bit.  i guess all i wanted was to see him be the “Chosen One” on the court. in my mind, he needed to be “King James” on the court for the whole 48 minutes of a game.  anytime you self-anoint yourself the “king” of anything, you would hope you have already conquered the prize. and he didn’t. and he hasn’t. still. 

not yet. 

however this post-season, Lebron has become the man we have waiting for. in the clutch. it’s time that we all admit it. Lebron is what we have been waiting for, even hoping for. he is the go-to guy in the clutch for the Miami Heat. quite simply, there is nothing more he can do to prove it.

what more do we want? the dude averaged 33.8 points, 11 rebounds and 3.9 assists against the Boston Celtics. oh and the idea that he cannot shoot the ball well? he shot 52.7% from the field. the theory that he cannot come up big when it matters?  

32, 34, 34, 39, 30, 45, 31. 

that’s what he scored in order in the seven game series against the Celtics. 

all he does is score? 

13, 10, 8, 6, 13, 15, 12.

those were his rebounding numbers. 

look. i get it. trust me.

i’m definitely a Kevin Durant guy. he stands for everything i like about an athlete. and i will be rooting for the thunder in this series. Durant doesn’t need the bright lights. he signed long-term in Oklahoma City before he knew they would be THIS good. he is a loyal dude who doesn’t seem like he will bolting for a bigger market.

but with that being said, Lebron is the best player in the NBA. there isn’t anything he needs to do to prove that. it’s just time to be king on the court.

where has all the innocence gone?

when i was a little boy, i was very curious about the world and what it was, who was in it and where it could take you. I would daydream for hours about the different things that could happen in a lifetime.

one day i would be a top-5 basketball recruit on a straight path to the nba. the next day i was the next willie mays … a blast from the past baseball player who could do it all and do it with a smile the size of lake michigan. another day i was a world-traveler solving crimes like the hardy boys and busting up criminals like the dukes of hazzard while driving a van like the one the a-team drove.

i had a crazy imagination.

i think part of this curiosity came from the incessant reading i did as a kid.

i read everything

hardy boys to henry huggins to biographies about the great American heroes. Books about sports figures and Bible heroes and I would even memorize stats about athletes from the 400-page sports encyclopedia-like book my mom bought me.

books have a way of creating this imaginary world in a kid like me.

as I grew older, my curiosity about the world got stronger, but one thing that stood the test was my belief that people were inherently good.  i really believed the best about people. some of you who know me best probably laugh a bit at that, but it’s true. I always believed the best and thought that everyone would think the best about me.

i never realized that sometimes, people don’t have the same perspective. so now, in my early thirties, I have been struck by this new emotion the last couple of years.


when i was a kid, i could never have imagined that i would ever be disappointed in other christians. i never thought that my favorite sports athletes would let me down. i never thought that a local politician that i know personally and has helped me out in the past, could be considered a bigot and a racist yet shake my hand.

it never crossed my mind that people in positions of authority would take advantage of others. that in a normal day we would hear about sex abuse cases and babies disappearing and domestic assaults on women and foot-stomping athletes.

i guess it just makes me wonder… where has all the innocence gone? i used to love my curiosity and my need to know what was going on in the world. i don’t want that to change. but i wonder what this world has truly come to. how did it happen and where do we go from here? i wish i had a cute solution wrapped in a bow that made us all feel better.

i’m not sure a solution wrapped in a bow is attainable… but i would like to hope that there are still kids growing up with the same curiosity that i did.

win or lose.

In sports we tend to create two categories:

winners and losers.

We define winners by those who have won championships, and losers are defined generally as those who have not won championships.

It seems mostly there is no gray area.

You either have won, or, you have lost.

 Is that fair?

Michael won six championships, Magic won five championships, the great Bill Russell won eleven championships in thirteen years, making him essentially the greatest winner of them all.

Joe Montana won four Super Bowls while Dan Marino lost in his only appearance at the big game.

So Montana is a winner and Marino is a loser?

The concept of winning and losing has just taken on a life of its own. Even with Lebron James, who I am not a fan of, not winning a championship does not make him a loser. Does he have a huge ego? Probably. Did he fail to come through in the Finals? Yes.

But he is not a “loser.”

Most of sport is a about the team. That is why i love sports so much.

Team aspect.

The fact that you need everyone else around you to perform well for you to personally succeed. So when my modern day sports hero, Barry Sanders walks away from a career with my favorite team, the Detroit Lions, without winning more than one playoff game in ten years… it does not make him personally a loser. It is a team concept.

You win and lose together.

Let me make one thing clear: competition is good

I believe it makes us all better in the end. My issue is with the individual accolades and criticism they receive from playing a team sport. These guys are not the sole reason why the team wins, and they aren’t the sole reason for why they lose.

We better not lose the meaning of playing a team sport.

The Crying Game

I really do get tired of talking about Lebron James and the Miami Heat. Seriously, I do… but come on now.

Crying? We are talking about a 4 game losing streak in March. We are also talking about a team currently 23 games over .500. And they are crying?

First of all, why in the world would Erik Spoelstra spill locker room details like that? What goes on in the locker room is sacred. No player or coach should ever divulge that type of information to the media about his own team. Ever.

If anything, Spoelstra just gave more ammunition for Pat Riley to use when he comes down from the front office. We know the drill, Riles is coming down to save the day because the beloved Coach Spo suddenly is need of a family vacation… but i digress.

Look. grown men cry. If you are a grown man and you say you never cry… mmm okay. maybe you don’t. But men cry more than they ever will admit. it’s just the truth. But here we are, in the midst of Year 1 of the Lebron James and Dwyane Wade circus show, only a few long months from when Lebron stood on a stage during the coronation of what was supposed to be “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven…” championships. multiple championships the “king” declared. All they had to do was take care of “business” he said. These are his words, and it might be a fair statement if he actually knew what taking care of business meant. Lebron is not stupid, but a champion? Well, he is not that either.

If it was that easy to just “take care of business”, Karl Malone and John Stockton would have done that “multiple” times. So would Patrick Ewing, or Reggie Miller or Charles Barkley. Maybe that’s why Charles called him a “punk” back in the summer.

It just isn’t that easy to simply throw talent on the floor and expect success. You cannot expect success without a great deal of devotion to the details, and this is something that Lebron/Wade/Bosh seemingly forgot. And let’s not excuse Riley and Spoelstra either. Riley, who has been through many NBA battles, threw this team together as if it were a fantasy team and just assumed it would work. I’m not sure why, because it doesn’t take a NBA genius to understand how important team chemistry and leadership is. Spoelstra is proving how over-matched he really is. I respect him as a coach, but really? Calling for Lebron to catch the ball at the top of the key and calling for a clear-out is NOT imaginative offense, especially when it fails over and over and you have a great closer in Dwyane Wade literally sitting in the corner wishing and hoping for the ball. This tale spin is just as much Spoelstra’s fault as it is the players.

The moral of the story today is this, champions might actually cry. They care, they get frustrated. I won’t crush the Heat for that. However, this is their own doing. They have adopted the victim role, except that the sports fan refuses to see $100 million athletes as victims. Wade said sarcastically that “the world is a better now since the Heat is losing.” Yea Dwyane, with that attitude, we are loving watching you lose.

All is not lost for the Miami Heat. There is a lot of basketball left, and maybe they can pull it together. They have the talent to do so, but what most be accomplished is, the Heat need to drop the “everybody hates us and we hate them” act. Because while everyone outside of Miami might hate the Heat, the victim act is wearing thin. It isn’t working for this team.

Crying in March is clear evidence of that.

For the Love of….

In the end… is it really for the love of the game? Is that why athletes play sports?

Money and sports. Sports and money.

Can we stop kidding ourselves that athletes play for the love of the game?

Sure, they might have a job that they love doing, but it is a job. The major headlines these days centers on billion dollar owners threatening to lock out multi-million dollar athletes in the NFL and NBA, because after all, it is about money. Owners don’t want to give up too much and players think it might not be enough.

Albert Pujols has to consider whether to take an 8 year, $200 million contract to continue his career in St. Louis. Let me do some quick math for you, that is $25 million a season. To play baseball. He has to think about it? I thought athletes play for the love of the game… hmmm. Maybe for the love of the game… and money?

It just boggles my mind, and any hard-working fan, that it has come to this. Where Derek Jeter has to “settle” (in his mind) for a 3 year $51 million contract, which comes on the heels of a 10 year $189 million deal. Alex Rodriguez is in his second $200+ million contract (and still can’t feed himself popcorn). The NFL owners are threatening to lock out the players because they are afraid they aren’t making enough money. Really? A league that, according to Forbes, banked a cool $9.3 BILLION in revenue in 2009, is worried about spending costs. The owners want the players to actually take a pay cut. Revenue for the NFL is up 43% since 2006, and according to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, the current system is not working. Really?  I would love to work in an industry where annual revenues are in the multi-billions.

The point is not to bore you with details. The issue lies in the fact we as fans are being sold on the idea that outside of genuine love of the game, we are the most important factors in the game. I think we are too smart for that now.

We know better.

We know that athletes play because it pays well. Yes, they have God-given gifts and abilities and tremendous discipline to succeed at the highest levels.But it is about the money. No one really wants to play for free. Owners want more money or they will shut it down. Sometimes players want more money or they walk out. It is all a business and sure, it should be treated as such. Being honest about it is okay.Let’s just be honest here, it is about the money.

Team Atmosphere = Perfect Season

Every sports season can be defined by certain words.

Sometimes however, there are instances when certain words and phrases become real. The 2010 UMass Lowell field hockey team brought life to the term champion. This season, their ‘one game at a time’ mantra turned into an undefeated and record-breaking campaign.

The top-ranked River Hawks captured the school’s second National Championship in Louisville, Kentucky in early December, defeating No.2 Shippensburg 1-0. A strong defensive effort and the outstanding work of a freshman goalkeeper completed their first ever undefeated season and finished the season with a school record of 24 wins. The championship road began on a hot August day.

Within the first five minutes of the first practice of the season, Head Coach Shannon Hlebichuk gathered her team together recognizing not just the talent but the chemistry and intangibles her girls possessed. Thus, she set the standard for the season, National Championship.

“I saw a ‘different’ determination in them during the off season and throughout the summer” she said. “The seniors were intent on going above and beyond what they had done the three previous years to ensure they would not only get to the championship game, but they would have what it takes to win it.”

The River Hawks had reached the NCAA Division II Final Four the previous three seasons, but this season had to be different. The script needed a different ending because this was a different team. They were hungry and they wanted it more; and with seven seniors who had tasted defeat, winning the final game was the only option that seemed to fit.

“We came together as a team instead of individuals,” said senior defender Jaime Hadley, “The feeling of defeat the previous 3 seasons made it that much easier to work.”

Hadley credits her teammates ability to push aside personal goals as a main contributor to the team success.

“We had a team outlook, we kept ourselves in check and we worked hard together, everybody working so hard made it better.”

“Basically all the stars aligned for us” said Hlebichuk, “We had great senior leadership, our team chemistry was on and we were starting a freshman goalkeeper who wanted nothing more than to never let her team down, this was the perfect storm for us.”

Hlebichuk, who earned conference coach of the year honors seven out of nine years at UMass Lowell, uses excellence to describe her program, which has reached the Final Four eight consecutive seasons, on the field, in the classroom and within the community.

This season, the River Hawks added another word as motivation: