Tag Archives: college sports

My (Early) Thoughts On Pandemic-Era Live Sports

This past weekend felt like a turning point for the world of sports. For sports lovers like me, it was a weekend we thought might never come. This past year and the global pandemic that has consumed it has ruined so many things, canceling so much of what we love. It got to a point where some of us seriously wondered if sports would go the way of concerns, indoor restaurants, and strip clubs.

As a lifelong lover sports who builds spring and summer afternoons around watching baseball games, this was a terrifying thought. I was already bracing myself for the worst, thinking that 2020 might become a year without sports. For once, the worst didn’t entirely come to pass. Baseball, hockey, and basketball all made a comeback and sports fans everywhere could breathe a bittersweet sigh of relief.

Having spent the past few days watching a little of everything, from late night ball games to the new NBA playoffs, I certainly share that relief. I am very happy to see sports return. It feels like a real sign that we’re navigating this pandemic. We’re making a genuine effort to get our lives back. That said, the experience of watching sports is very different during a pandemic.

The most jarring thing, at least for me, was watching a Red Sox vs. Yankees game with no fans. Even though the broadcast tried to pump in crowd noise, it just felt so off. This is one of the most heated rivalry in the history of sports. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the playoffs or the regular season. When these two teams play, it has real dramatic stakes.

You can hear it in the crowd.

You can feel it with every home run, lead change, and scoring opportunity.

It’s part of the experience, even if you’re watching from home. Without real fans and real visceral crowd noise, it just felt incomplete.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed watching the game. After several months with no sports outside of Korean Baseball, it was incredibly cathartic. You could just tell that this is an incomplete product, but for very good reasons. The subsequent outbreaks that followed opening day were proof of that. I have a feeling that won’t be the last outbreak before the season is done.

That season might even get cancelled. That’s a real possibility and one that doesn’t bode well for football season, which is just a month away.

It seems basketball and hockey are faring somewhat better. They still had the benefit of nearly being done with their season by the time the pandemic hit. I managed to watch a few basketball and hockey games. It wasn’t quite as jarring as baseball, but it still felt very incomplete.

If you’ve ever seen how the Las Vegas Golden Knights put together an opening show, you know why. It also changes the stakes, somewhat. When the both the NBA and NHL seasons were put on hold, teams were still fighting for playoff positions. Those positions matter because higher ranking means a chance at home field advantage.

Well, since both leagues are playing in a bubble in limited locations with no fans, there’s no such thing as home field advantage. There’s no crowd energy. There’s no real sense that any team has an advantage, besides the record they earned before all this happened. For some, that’s disappointing. At the same time, this might be the most level playing field these teams have ever had.

In those circumstances, how do we treat the team that ultimately wins it all? How can you judge any team that wins a championship when an entire season got disrupted by a global pandemic? Does that championship deserve an asterisk? Will people and players alike see it as legitimate? Will the fans even be able to celebrate it? It’s not like parades are conducive to social distancing.

These are sentiments I still find myself contemplating as I celebrate a return of sports. I’m sure those sentiments will change as the rest of the year unfolds. If baseball gets cancelled or football season gets delayed, that’ll be another sign of just how bad this pandemic is and how terrible we’ve been at dealing with it.

Again, I’m still bracing for the worst. For me, the worst-case scenario is the NFL season getting canceled or cut short, due to an outbreak. I suspect, with billions of dollars on the line, everyone involves will try to avoid that. However, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the unthinkable is more possible than we care to admit.

I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I’m just glad sports are back, in some capacity. I just worry about what the end results will be when all is said and done.

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Why I Won’t Be Too Disappointed If College Football Is Cancelled This Fall

I love sports. I think I’ve made that abundantly clear already.

I really love football. I hope I’ve made that clear too.

Like many fellow sports fans, this year has been agonizing. So many major sporting events have been cancelled over the past several months. A few are trying to start back up, but their efforts have been mixed at best. As much as I want to see live sports again, I’m not too optimistic. I assume it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

The worst case scenario, at least for me, is how much this pandemic will affect the upcoming football season. For me, and America as a whole, football is king. It’s the top sport of the country and one I build my entire weekends around. I’m already expecting to have to change those weekend plans for the upcoming season.

I really hope the NFL finds a way to play a full season. I imagine it’ll be traumatic for many football fans like myself to see the season cancelled or diminished in any way. However, as dire as this news might be for football fans, there is one potential silver lining that I hope comes to pass.

If college football is cancelled this year, I think it’ll be better for the sport and college athletes in the long run.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love college football. I went to many raucous football games while I was in college. They’re something people build their entire Saturdays around and it generates big business for networks and universities alike. That’s all well and good, but there’s just one problem. This all comes at the cost of exploiting the labor of college athletes.

It’s not a new issue. The debate on paying college athletes or somehow compensating them with something other than a scholarship has been ongoing for years. Having gone to college and known college athletes personally, I understand that it’s not a simple issue. At the same time, it’s hard to argue that the current system is horribly flawed.

The only reason that system hasn’t changed much, despite plenty of concerted efforts, is because the money kept pouring in. Peoples’ appetite for football is insatiable and the NCAA was not inclined to change what had been working so well for them.

Then, the pandemic happened.

Suddenly, that steady stream of money, fueled by the sweat of unpaid college athletes, might not be there anymore. Some conferences have already canceled their fall sports programs. More are likely to follow. If the rate of infections and death keeps rising, there’s a real possibility that all of college sports will be canceled this fall, including football.

As a football fan, this is terrifying.

As someone who has no sympathy whatsoever for the NCAA or the current system of college athletics, I’m oddly hopeful.

It takes a lot to change a corrupt system that’s making a select few very rich. A global pandemic definitely qualifies. While I understand some of the arguments behind not paying college athletes, I don’t think that’s enough to justify the current way of doing things. These kids deserve to get paid.

I’ve seen what they go through. I’ve known players who strain their minds, bodies, and souls under this system and get so little out of it. I’ve also known players who grossly exploit the system for their own benefit. It needs to change. It should’ve changed years ago, but it only became more entrenched.

If losing an entire college football season will finally bring that change, I’ll gladly take it. If it leads to a better system for the players, the schools, and the sport in general, I’ll endure. This pandemic will end. Sports will eventually return. As bad as this current situation is, it’s also an opportunity real, meaningful change. I hope the sports world embraces it.

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How The NFL Might Have Just Guaranteed A Work Stoppage In The Future

I’m no expert on labor laws, union contracts, or the general business operations of professional sports. I’d never claim otherwise. I’m just a typical guy who loves watching sports. I have about as much expertise to judge a labor dispute as I do in performing brain surgery.

While I lack the expertise, I’ve been on this planet long enough to know when there’s potential conflict down the line. It’s not always obvious, but the signs are usually the same. People see an opportunity to resolve a conflict in the short term, but lay the foundation for greater conflicts in the long run. Like treating a symptom rather than a disease, it simply delays a bigger problem rather than resolving it.

That’s my initial take on the recent approval of the NFL’s new 10-year collective bargaining agreement. At a time when the news about sports has been historically bleak, many see this as a rare bit of good news from the sports world. To some extent, it is. By approving this deal, the NFL avoids a potential work stoppage that could’ve occurred after the 2020 season.

As a die-hard football fan, which I’ve affirmed more than once on this site, I’m glad to hear that this issue wasn’t drawn out. The last time this occurred, there was a full-blown lockout that almost bled into the season. I understand why labor deals are such a big deal in professional sports. Football, especially, requires unique protections for players who want to make money playing an objectively dangerous game.

However, the news on this deal has some details and circumstances that give me pause. It’s not just that certain players are already criticizing it. That’s bound to happen with any deal. The fact that this deal was approved amidst a massive crisis that has rocked the sports world to its core and by such a narrow margin is somewhat telling.

In general, when something is approved by a narrow margin, it’s a sign that neither side is all that happy. It implies there are still many unresolved issues and the presence of a deal doesn’t make those issues go away. Just look at how often narrowly decided Supreme Court decisions tend to cause more issues down the road.

The issues between the players and owners are many, but most boil down to who gets how much of the massive revenue that the NFL generates every year. This new deal gives the players a larger share of the revenue, but also sets the stage for an 17-game season, as well as an expanded playoffs.

As a football fan, I love the prospect of more football, but I also don’t deny that issues that tend to arise whenever you ask workers to work longer. These players already put their bodies through more rigor than most fans can ever fathom and now they’re being asked to push themselves even more. Even if it’s for more money, is the amount they got enough?

It’s hard to say since I’m not an NFL player, but the fact that the players approved the deal by such a narrow margin leads me to believe it’s not. Some may not oppose it, but I think the stage is already set for a much bigger conflict down the line. Once players start playing this 17-game season and see the amount of revenue it generates, they’re going to want more for the grind they endure.

Given the circumstances surrounding this deal, I suspect the only way they’ll get what they want is by going on strike, like they did back in the early 1980s. It might be their only recourse if the NFL continues to grow at its current pace. It will get ugly. Fans will hate it and so will the owners. However, it might be the only way they can get what they want.

I hope I’m wrong about this. I look forward to every new NFL season with great excitement. I want to keep enjoying football as a fan and I want the players to benefit as much as they deserve. Hopefully, cooler heads prevail in the end. For now, though, I think it’s only a matter of time before the NFL faces a bigger conflict that they won’t be able to blame on a pandemic.

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What Lawrence Phillips Taught Me About “Evil”

Every now and then, I come across a story, sometimes fictional and sometimes non-fictional, that resonates with me in an unexpected way. Sometimes it’s a movie. Sometimes it’s a comic book. Sometimes it’s even a video game with a powerful story that actually gets me choked up at the end.

I don’t deny it. I’m human. I may be a heterosexual man, but I do get emotional at times. Sure, I’m not one to cry when Bambi’s mother dies in a Disney movie. Everybody responds differently to certain things. It’s part of what makes us such a diverse species and it’s part of what frustrates every single marketing department that ever lived.

With that in mind, try not to bust my balls too much when I say a recent sports documentary really struck a nerve with me. That alone might not surprise too many people. Sports fans can be an emotional bunch. Just ask any Eagles fan since 1960.

However, this particular documentary involved a guy by the name of Lawrence Phillips. Okay, now try even harder not to bust my balls.

Who is Lawrence Phillips and why should we give a damn? Well, anyone who has followed the NFL or college football over the past 25 years has probably heard his name at least once. He’s not so much an athlete or a football player anymore. He’s become the ultimate cautionary tale. Get football fan talking about him and they’ll usually talk about him with the kind of disdain they usually reserve for bullshit pass interference calls.

To be fair, Phillips earned that disdain in multiple ways. He was an insanely gifted athlete who helped the University of Nebraska go undefeated for two consecutive seasons and win two BCS National Championships in the process. After that, he was drafted 6th overall by the St. Louis Rams in 1996. This is the ultimate dream for a football player and Phillips, despite all his talents, proceeded to piss it all away.

It didn’t happen all at once, but in many ways, that just made it worst. This was a guy who seemed to get arrested every other week and kept finding excuses to beat up women. By the end, he was less respected by the NFL than Scott Norwood is by Buffalo Bills fans. He is now regularly cited as one of the greatest NFL Draft Busts of all time.

Now as a noted NFL fan, I fully admit that I saw Lawrence Phillips in this light. When I follow the NFL and I see someone get into serious legal trouble, a part of me rolls my eyes and things, “At the rate he’s going, he’ll be another Lawrence Phillips.”

That’s what happens when someone becomes a cautionary tale. They become a symbol for the flaws we see in others. As a result, that person ceases to be a person. We don’t even see the person anymore. We just see what he or she represents. It’s harsh, but it’s how we process certain concepts about ourselves.

Then, when we get a chance to actually learn about that person, we find out that just calling them a “cautionary tale” is kind of a dick move because it ignores a much bigger, much more complex picture.

That’s where this documentary comes in. It’s called “Running for His Life: The Lawrence Phillips Story.” Even if you’re not a football fan, I highly recommend this movie. It accomplishes something truly remarkable. It peels back the layers of the cautionary tale that is Lawrence Phillips and reveals the man.

This isn’t a documentary that tries to make excuses. It does not try to glorify Phillips or gloss over his egregious flaws. It just explores the whole of a complicated, volatile, yet gifted man.

It spends a lot of time exploring where he came form and this is important because where we come from has a huge impact on who we are. He was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, but his mother moved him out to California. He was estranged from his father and did not have the best relationship with his biological mother. His home life, to put it mildly, was anything but stable.

The documentary tells stories about the abuse he suffered as a child. It even recounts a story where one of his mother’s boyfriends held him down an urinated on him. Sadly, it gets even more disturbing than that.

After running away from home, Phillips became a ward of the state and bounced around foster homes. Along the way, he lived in a few group homes with other kids. The way the documentary describes this place sounds like something that would make Charles Dickens himself cringe. These are places where things like love and innocence go to die.

Eventually, Phillips did end up in a foster home with a loving mother who tried to help him. However, the damage had been done. The boy had been scarred in ways that never truly healed. The documentary described these scars as demons that he struggled to deal with. A lot of people claim to have demons, but let’s not lie to ourselves. Some are more powerful than others.

Despite these demons, Phillips still had insane God-given talent. The documentary make sit a point to highlight just how talented this man was. By every measure, he had all the physical tools of a gifted athlete. He did try to use those tools as well. Football helped him escape the rough, abusive world he came from. He could’ve been a success story like John Randall or Randy Moss. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.

The documentary eventually starts to reveal just how dark a turn this man’s life took after college. It described a man who was cold, unloved, and did not know how to show love to others. The women interviewed described a man who just could not control his emotions and when there was upheaval, violence was his first, second, and third reaction.

This fits perfectly with the mold of someone who has an abusive personality. When women’s centers list warning signs, Lawrence Phillips checks most every box. He came from a world of abuse. Naturally, that’s the kind of world he forges around him.

However, the women also took the time to emphasize how good he could be at times. That good cannot and should not be completely ignored. It’s still not an excuse, but it does make clear that this man had other aspects to his personality. He wasn’t just the scary ex-football player who abused women.

This, in my opinion, is the most important message of this documentary. It’s also the most important lesson we can glean from the story of Lawrence Phillips. I’ve talked a lot about evil on this blog. There are plenty of people who would rightly call Phillips evil for the crimes he committed, one of which may have been the murder of his cell mate in prison. However, he was still a human being.

No matter what anyone thinks about Lawrence Phillips, whether he’s a cautionary tale or a violent abuser, it doesn’t change the fact that he was a person. He was a child once. He had a life and he tried to live it. We like to think about evil people as nothing more than monsters. It’s easy to just think of them as wannabe Biff Tannen’s from “Back to the Future.” That still ignores the person and the full story of their lives.

At the end of the documentary, there’s a haunting message about Lawrence Phillips that I think many of us can relate to. It talks of a man who was so physically gifted that he could outrun anybody, but he could not outrun his demons. At one point, an old friend of his said he was always running from his demons, but in the end, the demons caught him.

Whether you’re an aspiring erotica/romance writer, a football fan, or just a decent human being trying to make sense of this crazy world, it’s a message that’s worth hearing. It’s a message we shouldn’t forget. There may very well be another Lawrence Phillips-type story in the future, but let’s not make light of that story. In the end, they’re still people. As soon as we forget that, we cease heeding the lessons of that story.

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