Tag Archives: sports

The Life Ryan O’Callaghan: A Sad (But Uplifting) Story About A Former NFL Player Coming Out

Ryan O'Callaghan #75 of the Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High on November 14, 2010 in Denver Colorado.

For a brief moment, picture a typical gay man. Depending on when you grew up, where you came from, and what sort of media you consumed, you probably have a certain image in your head. I suspect that image looks nothing like Ryan O’Callaghan.

Unless you’re a world class NFL football nerd, chances are you haven’t heard that name before. However, after learning about his story, I hope he’s someone who has changed your perception of what it means to be LGBTQ. That’s because Ryan O’Callaghan’s story is a sad, downright heartbreaking story on many levels, but one that has a happy, uplifting ending.

We need more stories like that, especially during Pride Month. We need them now more than ever.

To appreciate what Ryan O’Callaghan went through, it’s necessary to appreciate how hard it can be to live life as a closeted gay man. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a story from decades ago. Ryan O’Callaghan was born in 1983. He’s pretty much the same age as I am. He was born at a time when things were steadily improving for the LGBTQ community.

However, that wasn’t much solace for him. He grew up in a very conservative part of California. After realizing he was gay, he had no idea how he was going to live that life in such an environment. That led him to hide his sexuality. At one point, he even made plans to kill himself.

It’s hard to imagine how agonizing it must be, having to hide a part of who you are from everyone around you. Forget, for a moment, how you feel about homosexuality in general. Imagine trying to hide a big part of who you are from everyone and being terrified of the truth coming out. Could we really manage keeping a secret like that?

I know I couldn’t. I question the honesty of anyone who claims they can. For Ryan O’Callaghan, it was too much. He really didn’t believe he could live a full life as an openly gay man. The best he could do was hide his secret as long as he could. That was where football came in.

This goes back to that picture I conjured earlier. Ryan O’Callaghan is 6 foot 7 inches tall. During his playing days through college and the NFL, he weight in between 250 and 330 pounds. He was an offensive lineman. He looked and played the part. In essence, he was the last person anyone expected to be gay and that’s how he liked it.

Through high school, college, and the NFL, he let football be his mask. It’s supposed to be the manliest sport in the world. Even after Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to play in the NFL in 2014, there’s still this perception that the men who play football fit a certain ideal and that ideal doesn’t involve being gay.

That’s not to say there haven’t been gay players in the NFL. In fact, there have been quite a few. One of the best tight ends in NFL history, Jerry Smith, played his entire 13 year career in the NFL as a closeted gay man. There’s a good chance there are active players in the NFL right now who are gay, but in the closet.

Be that as it may, it offered no comfort to Ryan O’Callaghan. Football was still his mask, but he loved playing it enough to keep going. It also helped that he was very good at it. He was so good that he managed to get a college scholarship with the California Golden Bears. He went onto play well enough to get drafted by the New England Patriots in 2006.

That’s a level of success very few football players ever reach, regardless of position. The fact that Ryan was able to go that far is a testament to both his skill and his talent for the game. Doing it all while in the closet just makes it all the more harrowing.

However, that success didn’t change his plans. Ryan still believed he could not live life as an openly gay man. Once his playing days were over, he still planned to take his own life. At one point, he even wrote a suicide letter, bought guns, and built a cabin. That’s how close he came to ending it all.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.

Before he took that fatal step, he got help from a clinical psychologist. She helped him out of that dark place. Eventually, he was able to come out, revealing his secret to the general manager who had drafted him. It’s hard to overstate how big that moment must have been for him.

I certainly can’t do it justice. I’ve only touched on some of the details surrounding Ryan O’Callaghan’s story. For a more a more complete picture, check out his book, My Life On The Line. Also, I highly recommend that everyone read this story done by Outsports. It covers Ryan’s struggles in far greater depth.

I should offer a bit of a trigger warning, though. Some of the details are difficult to take in, but it’s worth noting that this story has a happy ending. Here’s a brief snippet.

Outsports: Former Patriots and Chiefs tackle Ryan O’Callaghan comes out as gay

Very early on in the process he felt it was mandatory to share his truth with Pioli, the man who had brought him from New England and helped keep his career — and his life — moving forward.

Just after the 2011 season, O’Callaghan visited Pioli in his office.

The day before he had called his general manager, who had become a good friend, to ask him for a meeting. Pioli had known about O’Callaghan’s drug abuse, and the gravity in his player’s voice over the phone told him that something dire was on his mind.

“He had built this up like he was coming in to tell me that maybe he had done something truly terrible,” Pioli remembered.

O’Callaghan trudged into Pioli’s office the next day. After a hug and some small talk, O’Callaghan turned serious. He told Pioli he had been visiting with Wilson and had gotten “clean.” It was good news to Pioli.

“I’ve got something else I’ve got to tell you,” O’Callaghan said. At this point he was fighting back tears. Pioli’s mind raced, wondering if his player had harmed or killed someone.

“I’m gay,” O’Callaghan said.

His private announcement was met with immediate support from the GM. Then:

“So what’s the problem you wanted to talk me about?” Pioli asked.

O’Callaghan looked at him, bewildered, 27 years of fear, anxiety and self-loathing meeting Pioli’s stare.

“Scott,” O’Callaghan said, “I’m… gay.”

Pioli acknowledged that and asked again if O’Callaghan had done something wrong.

“People like me are supposed to react a certain way, I guess,” Pioli told Outsports. “I wasn’t minimizing what he was telling me, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. He built this up and built this up to the point where he said he was nearly suicidal. What Ryan didn’t know is how many gay people I’ve had in my life.”

O’Callaghan also didn’t know that, according to Pioli, he wasn’t the first gay NFL player whom his GM had counseled.

The two men talked more and Pioli assured O’Callaghan that their conversation changed nothing, he was still there to support him, and they were still friends. O’Callaghan was shocked by the reaction. Pioli handled it pitch-perfectly, as though he had known all along. So O’Callaghan asked if his boss had, in fact, known.

“Ryan, how would I have known?” Pioli responded.

“Do you really think I like coffee that much?” O’Callaghan asked.

Pioli had no idea what his player was talking about.

O’Callaghan had, since his time in New England, headed to the training room after every practice to consume copious amounts of coffee, a convenient excuse to avoid being in the showers with the rest of his teammates.

Pioli got emotional at the thought of one of his players having to go to those lengths to keep some distance from his teammates. The mental toll this had all taken on O’Callaghan had come into focus.

As they rose to say goodbye, Pioli came around from behind his desk and opened his arms to embrace O’Callaghan. They had hugged countless times before, after games, after the offseason, even just moments ago when O’Callaghan walked into his office.

This time O’Callaghan stuck out his hand to shake.

“What’s with the handshake?” Pioli asked.

“I just told you I’m gay,” O’Callaghan replied sheepishly.

Pioli was having none of it and grabbed O’Callaghan.

“Dude, it’s OK,” Pioli said. Then, in his signature sense of humor, “Just don’t grab my butt.”

That broke the tension and O’Callaghan burst into laughter. The humor was a sign to him that Pioli wasn’t going to change. They could get along just as they always had.

“Don’t worry,” O’Callaghan replied, “You’re not my type.”

I sincerely hope this story resonates with others for all the right reasons. Whether you’re openly LGBTQ, in the closet, or just know people who are struggling with their sexuality, I hope the story of Ryan O’Callaghan offers insight and perspective.

Yes, we’ve made progress as a society. Life for the LGBTQ community is better now than it has been in the past. We still have room for improvement, as Ryan’s story perfectly illustrates. If you or anyone you know is struggling, I hope this story helps you in some way.

Also, if you need help or are at all feeling suicidal, please check out the resources of the Trevor Project. Thank you an have a Happy Pride Month.

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Filed under football, LGBTQ, NFL, psychology, real stories, sports

Happy (On Time) Opening Day Baseball Fans!

Today is a beautiful day for baseball fans and sports fans, in general.

Today is a day that, until last year, many took for granted as something that would always come with the changing seasons.

That’s because today is opening day for the 2021 baseball season. Unlike last year’s never-ending spiral of misery and cancellations, the season is starting on time. This year, we’ll be able to celebrate the early days of spring with a new season of baseball. Even if you’re not a sports fan, it’s something worth celebrating for this year.

I certainly intend to enjoy it more so than usual. I haven’t forgotten just how jarring last year was. The experience of going an entire spring without baseball had a lasting impact, to say the least. I was so used to just sitting on my couch, turning a ball game on, and relaxing throughout the spring and summer.

Losing that hurt.

It hurt a lot.

It also made me appreciate baseball that much more.

For me, there’s a sentimental value for baseball. Growing up, some of my fondest memories involve sitting on the couch with my dad, cracking peanuts, and watching ball games together. I didn’t even care who was playing. Just watching baseball with my dad was a joyous experience. I came to cherish that experience as I got older.

Now, after last year, I’m ready to cherish it even more. I encourage other baseball fans to do the same. We lost a lot in 2020. We took so many things for granted, including baseball. Let’s take the time to celebrate having it this year.

Play ball!

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One Year Ago: The NBA Cancelled A Game Moments Before Tip-Off (And The End Of Normal Began)

It’s amazing to think of where we were at this time last year. It feels so long ago. It might as well have been another century. The simple experience of going out, hanging out with friends, or attending a sporting event seemed so casual. Being in a crowded arena with cheering fans never felt unsafe. It was just loud and roucouse.

That all changed in March 2020. That’s when the world, as we knew it, started to fall apart as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. I already recounted my own experience when I felt the impact like everyone else. I have a feeling everyone has their moment when they realized this was not going to just blow over easily.

However, if there was one moment in which everybody realized that this was serious, it was when major sports leagues started shutting down. Suddenly, this activity we turn to for an escape was no more. These were billion-dollar leagues who had plenty of incentive to keep playing, regardless of what the news said. The idea of any major league shutting down seemed unthinkable.

The unthinkable finally happened on March 11, 2020 when the Utah Jazz were scheduled to play the Oklahoma City Thunder in a major primetime match-up on ESPN. The arena was packed. People were cheering. Nobody was wearing masks or socially distancing. They were all just ready to escape the news and have a good time.

The game was still scheduled to play. The pre-game show happened without any indication that something was wrong. The players had warmed up and were ready to go. Then, there was a delay. A bunch of officials began discussing something. Nobody had any idea what it was about. Nobody would’ve suspected that the game, the NBA, and the entire sports world was about to shut down.

Looking back at that moment, it seems so ominous and eerie. It might have been the last glimpse of “normal” that we ever saw. Just watch the highlight posted by ESPN that same night. Watch as the world, as we knew it, changed before our eyes.

I’m not a huge basketball fan. I don’t follow the NBA as closely as I follow other sports, like baseball and football. However, seeing this gave me chills. It still does. Listening to these announcers talk about basketball, the season, and the importance of this game seems so surreal.

They have no idea what’s about to happen to the league and the world.

Nobody in that arena knew, from the players to the people serving drinks in the stands.

It really was unthinkable, a game being suspended this close to tip-off because of a pandemic. When it happened, it was the first domino to fall in the sports world. Everything after that just built on the nightmare that unfolded throughout 2020.

Even if you’re not a sports fan, you still understand on some levels how much they mean to people. The world may seem crazy, but we always had our sports and our movies to escape. We never thought things would get so bad that it would all just shut down. Then, it happened and even after an entire year, we having recovered.

That scene in this highlight of a packed arena with cheering fans and no masks seems almost unattainable now. I still believe we’ll see something like this again, hopefully later this year. Right now, though, it’s an eerie reminder of the day we all realized things were about to get much worse than we ever could’ve imagined.

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Two Monday Night Football Games: Something Awesome From Something Awful In 2020

It’s been a weird year for sports and for horrific reasons. Let’s not overlook that. This year has been horrific in general for reasons I hope I don’t have to belabor. However, it is possible for good things to come out of awful circumstances. That doesn’t make the circumstances any less awful, but a good thing is still a good thing.

For me, a lifelong football fan who builds his Sunday afternoons and Monday nights around watching football, it’s been plenty weird. Watching NFL games in front of empty stadiums has taken some getting used to. All that fake crowd noise isn’t the least bit convincing.

That said, I’ll gladly take this kind of football over no football. At the same time, news about positive COVID-19 tests among NFL teams has me genuinely concerned. It already caused one game to get delayed. It threatened to delay another one. It was scary.

Then, through this horrible thing, something awesome emerged. The marquee matchup between the New England Patriots and the Kansas City Chiefs was postponed to Monday Night. That meant we had what amounted to a double-header last night, starting at 7:00 p.m. EST and going past midnight.

I think I speak for many of my fellow football fans when I say I loved this. I loved it in ways I cannot put into words without the aid of alcohol or spiked coffee.

Yes, I’m tired this morning from staying up so late.

Yes, it’s something that emerged from a bad situation.

Yes, it’s still awesome.

Two Monday Night Football games? A double-header that makes Monday’s less awful and Monday night’s more eventful? Yes, please! This is an objectively wonderful thing and I say let’s have more of it.

Sundays are great and because of NFL RedZone, football fans can plug themselves into every game for hours at a time. It’s wonderful and has made football such an engaging, day-long experience.

However, there are times in the season when there are as many as 9 or 10 games going at once at 1:00 p.m. in my time zone. Even with RedZone, it’s hard to keep up with. Some of those games deserve to be prime time games. Some of those teams would benefit from a little prime time exposure. I say this is the perfect way to do it.

Monday Night Football is already a ratings bonanza for everyone involved, regardless of how awful this year has been. Adding another game to that mix can only help add to the boon. I hope last night was a proving ground of sorts. There is room for two games on Monday night.

To the NFL, please use this as a sign. Turn this objectively terrible situation into something awesome. Football fans will thank you for years to come.

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The 2020 MLB Baseball Playoffs: Why We Should Keep This Format

I know I don’t talk about baseball that much. Please don’t misconstrue that as me saying I don’t care for it. I love baseball as much as any guy who grew up playing catch with his dad in the back yard. Some of my fondest memories are of watching ball games with my dad and eating peanuts.

While I tend to get more excited about football, I still enjoy a beer and a ball game. However, there are some other reasons why I don’t get as excited about baseball as I do with football.

Some of that has to do with the duration of the season and how often it seems certain teams clinch their playoff spots weeks ahead of time. Most of it has to do with the playoff format, itself. That’s the one part of Major League Baseball that I’ve always had a problem with.

Compared to other sports, baseball has always been much more limited in terms of which teams make the playoffs and how those games are structured. For me, the playoffs never got exciting until the ALCS and the NLCS. That’s usually when the drama happens. The divisional rounds before it are just too forgettable.

Then, two things happened. First, the pandemic struck and truncated the baseball season considerably and the MLB expanded the playoffs. Now, instead of just a handful of teams having a shot at the World Series, the playoffs is more a tournament with 16 teams.

This is what it looked like, just after the wild card rounds wrapped up.

Now, I know baseball is famous for having staunch traditionalists, but after following the wild card rounds, I have to say this.

The MLB should totally keep this format or, at the very least, keep most of it.

I love this new format. It really made the MLB playoffs feel exciting again. For once, I didn’t have to wait until the championship rounds to see some drama. As bad as 2020 has been for sports, this new tournament format might be the best thing that came out of it.

This new setup gives struggling teams a reason to keep playing in the regular season, even when they get into a skid. With this expanded format, there are more spots to fight for. The dominant teams will still get their spot, but now there are new opportunities for teams to sneak in and make an impact.

In baseball, that’s a big deal. I’ve been watching baseball long enough to know that any team can get hot at just the right time. Last year was a perfect example of it. The 2019 Washington Nationals are a perfect example of this. They had to get into the playoffs as a wild card team and go through heavyweights like the Dodgers en route to their first World Series title.

It can happen in baseball. Great teams can just have a bad day at the park or several. A wild card team can get hot and take that momentum to a championship. The Nationals sent a message to every team in the wild card round this year that it can happen to them, too.

Beyond the opportunity, it’s just more exciting. I know last year had a single-game elimination wild card, but I found that to be somewhat underwhelming. Like I said, any team can have a bad day at the ball park. Sometimes, quality teams just falter on a particular day. That sometimes means the lucky team wins instead of the better team.

I think a three-game playoff series fits perfectly. It helps ensure a team can win or lose on a single fluke. It also gives a team that falters in one game to make up for it the next. It’s a better way of determining who’s the better team in the long run.

Like the NCAA basketball tournament, more teams means more opportunities for a team to go on a historic run or land a historic upset. In a league that is legendary for having top-heavy teams who try to buy their way into a World Series, this can only help the sport.

Now, I know 2020 is a crazy year that has done lasting damage to the sports world. I don’t doubt that professional leagues are eager to go back to the way things were before the pandemic ruined so much.

However, I sincerely hope that Major League Baseball retains this new format for the postseason. I think it’ll do a lot of good for baseball and the sports world, in general. I know there are some logistical issues and I’m sure the players union will want to get their say. I believe there’s a way to do it and ensure everyone benefits.

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How I Prepare For NFL Football On Sundays

It’s almost here! In less than 24 hours, I will enjoy my first of 17 doses of regular season NFL football. In a year where my excitement and optimism has been crushed at every turn, I can’t put into words how excited I am. I also can’t fully articulate how much I need this.

I love sports.

I love football.

I love building my Sundays around watching NFL football.

It’s among my favorite regular joys. Now, I understand the NFL season will be different this year. There’s also a very real chance that the pandemic could significantly impact the season. I’m already bracing for games to be cancelled, players to be benched, and scandals to unfold. If it gets really bad, there’s certainly a possibility that an entire week of NFL games could be scrapped.

That’s a nightmare scenario that the NFL has many reasons to avoid. I’m not convinced they will, but at the moment, they’re scheduled to start the season on time, albeit without full stadiums. For me, that’s good enough.

In that spirit, I’d like to share some details as to what I do every Sunday to maximize my NFL experience. Sometimes, I do mix it up, but I have a few favorite rituals that I’ve refined over the years to ensure I achieve football nirvana every time.

It all starts early on Sunday morning. I’m an early riser by nature so I’m usually up around sunrise. It usually starts like most days. I check my email. I brew some coffee. I go through any and all unfinished work I might have, be it a blog post, a short story, or a video for my YouTube channel.

Then, I go for my daily run. I always make it a point to run a little extra long on Sundays. You’ll understand why very soon. If possible, I try to squeeze in some weightlifting. That’s not always an option. In a year like this, I may have to table that.

After I work out, I take a nice long shower. I usually shave afterwards, if my beard has become unruly. Once I’m done with that, I throw on some clothes and head out to get my groceries/football supplies.

I usually try to time it so that I leave at around noon. While I’m getting my groceries, I order a pizza, usually a large with extra cheese, bacon, and pepperoni. I also make sure I get a six pack of beer, if I don’t have one in the fridge already. If everything goes smoothly, I’m usually on my way home with about 15 minutes to spare.

With those 15 minutes, I put on my most comfortable pair of pants and my favorite football jersey. I then turn on NFL Redzone, grab a beer, serve myself a slice of pizza, and take my place on the couch.

Once the action starts, I rarely leave that couch, aside from bathroom breaks and beer. For the next seven hours, I am locked in. Most of the time, I keep the TV on Redzone, but if there’s a major game on one of the networks, I’ll flip to that one every now and then.

During that time, I am the most relaxed and content person you’ll ever going to see. The feeling of watching NFL football all Sunday while drinking beer and eating pizza is just the ultimate way to cap the weekend. It’s glorious. It’s joyous. Sure, I’ll yell at the TV every now and then, but I’ll have a damn good time every step of the way.

When all is said and done, that pizza is usually half-eaten. Most of that six pack of beer is long gone. I’m full, a little drunk, and utterly satisfied with all the football I’ve consumed. This weekend, I look forward to enjoying that feeling once more. I encourage my fellow football fans out there to do the same, especially for a year like this. If you have your own Sunday ritual for NFL football, please share it in the comments. I’d love to know. I’m certainly open to new ideas for making Sunday football even better. For now, I am ready for kickoff!

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Filed under football, Jack Fisher's Insights, sports

Jack’s World: My Picks And Predictions For The 2020 NFL Season

Every year, just before the NFL season kicks off, I write out my predictions and picks for the season. Being a lifelong football fan, it’s one of my favorite times of the year. This year, being what it is, has added some new complications. Be that as it may, I’m still going to try. This time, though, I’m going to offer my picks through my YouTube channel, Jack’s World.

If you like this new format and would like me to make more videos like it, please let me know in the comments. Enjoy!

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My (Fragile) Hopes For The XFL With The Rock

Earlier this year, I was very excited about the inaugural season of the second iteration of the XFL. Being a lifelong football fan, as well as a proponent of anything that could shake up the NFL/NCAA duopoly, I was genuinely hopeful for the future of this league.

It was doing everything right. It learned from the mistakes of the first version of the XFL. The league took its time. It got the right people. It dared to innovate how the game was played. It also had the beer snake. Who could forget the legendary beer snake?

Then, the pandemic hit and destroyed everything.

That’s not an exaggeration. I know the COVID-19 pandemic has ruined a lot of things this year, but it utterly destroyed the XFL. This was a brand new league trying to forge a new identity. It had a plan, but that plan did not account for the impact of the worst global pandemic in a century. How could it?

Sadly, the league declared bankruptcy in April. I was deeply saddened. I didn’t post anything about it. The thought of trying to put my disappointment into words was just too much. I was content to just swallow my anguish and find another way to endure the ongoing horror that is 2020.

Then, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson stepped in and bought the league for $15 million. Suddenly, the slightest glimmer of hope for the XFL and the future in general has emerged.

As part of the bankruptcy procedures, the XFL went up for sale. There aren’t many people who could’ve bought its assets and inspired any hope that it would live again. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is definitely one of them. He’s one of the most successful and beloved entertainers of the past 20 years. Say what you will about his movies, but the man is just one of the most likable guys you’ll find in entertainment these days.

Compare that with Vince McMahon. There just is no comparison worth making.

He’s also former football player, himself. He loves sports. He has a genuine love for the game. Both he and his business partner/ex-wife, Dany Carcia, plan to play games again. How they’ll go about it and how they’ll make it work remains to be seen. We still have to survive 2020 in one piece.

However, this news gives me a genuine, yet fragile hope for the XFL. It’s fragile because after the events of this past year, everything feels more fragile. The XFL did everything right the second time and still got screwed over by forces beyond anyone’s control. Naturally, I’m very reluctant to put my hopes on something that just seems to attract bad luck and bad circumstances at every turn.

Make no mistake. I want the XFL to come back. I want it to succeed. I think it was on the right path to do so before the pandemic hit. Now, with the leadership and brand appeal of The Rock, I think it’s in a good position to emerge from this dystopian stretch with a viable future.

However, I don’t think it can succeed if it just tries to go back to the way things were. It’s way too late for that. Right now, the XFL has a bad reputation of either being trashy, unlucky, or prone to bankruptcy. That’s not a good brand identity, to say the least.

At the same time, the XFL has an opportunity to re-align the entire football world in a good way. The XFL wasn’t the only sports entity to get screwed over by the pandemic. The NCAA is in a state of enormous upheaval right now. It lost nearly a billion dollars when it had to cancel the big basketball tournament this past spring. It’ll lose even more if it has to cancel fall sports, which is already happening.

Now, say what you will about the brand of the XFL. It’s still more admirable than the NCAA. The current system the NCAA uses to exploit college athletes while enriching itself just cannot be justified. The fact they’re fighting so hard get college sports going shows how little they care for the student part in “student athlete.”

That system is utterly untenable. The pandemic is just exposing how flawed and fragile that system always was. This is where the XFL can step in. If the Rock and his business partners are a smart as I hope, they’ll jump at the opportunity to recruit displaced college athletes. If only a handful of big time college schools can still operate, then that means hundreds of skilled players will be left out.

The XFL can help them and help itself. It can offer these aspiring athletes actual money to play a sport they love. That shouldn’t be such a radical concept, but the NCAA has kept it radical for far too long. At some point, it can’t keep justifying the practice of not paying athletes who make millions for their league and their school. If they keep trying, then the XFL is in position to step in.

At some point, this pandemic will end. Sports will return and people will flood football stadiums as they once did. The NFL will always reign supreme in the world of football, but the XFL will greatly improve the sport by supplanting the NCAA. Other sports leagues have developmental leagues for young, aspiring athletes beyond college. The XFL can be that league.

To get to that point, it’ll take hard work and someone with the vision and grit to see it through. There aren’t a lot of people who are up to that challenge. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is definitely one of them.

I hope he succeeds.

I hope the XFL prospers.

The football world needs it.

The XFL already has two strikes against it. This time, hitting a home run won’t be enough. It needs to hit a grand slam. I’m still very hesitant, but I’m also hopeful.

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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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