SOCCERNISTAS AND AMERICA

J. Steigerwald column for 7.05/06.14

I’m still proud to be an American.

Our soccer team losing to a team from a country that is 1/22 the size of Texas is no reason for any American to hang his or her head. We fought the good fight. The Americans played four games and won one.

They tell me that, in soccer, that’s pretty good.
The Soccernistas in the media would have you believe that the awe-inspiring 1-2-1 performance by our guys has already established soccer as America’s next big sport.
They don’t like to point out that “our guys” aren’t really ours the way, say, the US hockey team at the Winter Olympics was our guys.
The coach is from Germany. Five key players were born and raised in Germany. The German coach cut Landon Donovan, who (they tell me) is the best American player ever. Several other players are American only for the purpose of playing in the World Cup.
And that was no accident, apparently. The German coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, started with a plan to make the American team as un-American as possible.

Here’s Sam Borden in the New York Times Magazine back in June:
“….Klinsmann believes that, if the United States is ever going to really succeed at a World Cup, a specific and significant change must occur within the team. That change does not necessarily have to do with how the Americans play; rather, it has to do with the American players being too American.”

How would that little piece of news had gone over with the huge crowds of American flag-waving people gathered in front of outdoor screens around the country?

We’ll know that soccer has really arrived as an American sport when there are enough kids who were born and raised in America to fill out a competitive national team’s roster.

Does it qualify as ironic that crowds, who were gathered more out of a sense of patriotism and the opportunity for a party than because of any real interest in the sport, were cheering for a team that didn’t want to be “too American?”

- Meanwhile, what could be more American than college football? Big changes could be coming to a college football program near you. The Ed O’Bannon class action anti-trust lawsuit wrapped up last week and it’s in the hands of U.S. District judge Claudia Wilkening. A decision, which will probably be appealed, will be coming down in a few weeks.

The suit would like to bar the NCAA from preventing college football players from profiting from the use of their names, images and likenesses.

The NCAA’s defense was the same tired, old, phony story about maintaining amateur purity.

When the suit began, a sports attorney and former owner of a major professional sports franchise told me that he expected “a crater where the NCAA is now.” He said it would be the end of the NCAA as we know it.

I asked him, on the condition of keeping him anonymous, how he felt now that the case has been heard. He said, “ I haven’t followed the testimony closely enough to predict the outcome, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. (NCAA President) Emmert and his cohorts are like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in the final scene where they fought off their pursuers not realizing there were scores more awaiting them.”

“The NCAA as we know it is dead. It’s just a matter of who and what, individually or collectively, delivers the kill shot”

“The big conferences will have complete authority and the NCAA will be figuring out how to fund the hundreds of millions of dollars of judgments against it that await.”

As much as I would like to see the NCAA disappear, because of one of the plaintiff’s main arguments, this will only make it easier for the NFL and NBA monopolies to use colleges as a free minor league system and will increase the number of unqualified “student” athletes.

The plaintiffs claim that because the top level NCAA schools are the only places where these athletes can sell their services, they suffer economic harm.

They should be able to sell their services where baseball and hockey players sell theirs – to professional teams who can develop them in the minor leagues.

- The headline on the Washington Post read: “Bryce Harper is still just 21 years old, but he needs to stop acting like he is 12.”
Harper, who plays for the Nationals, is having some trouble dealing with what comes with being his sport’s next super-duper star at a young age. He has complained about his spot in the batting order and publicly second-guessed his manager.

Makes you appreciate Sidney Crosby.

- The Penguins are grittier and tougher than they were last week. Check back in May to see if it matters.

THE ULTIMATE GRAND SLAM

Think of all the Major League Baseball Games that have been played in the last 110 years or so.

And consider consider that Rajai Davis of the Tigers did something last night that has only happened 27 times. He hit a grand slam home run to wipe out a three run deficit and end the game.

It’s called an ultimate grand slam.

Two Pirates have done it. And they did it within two months of each other.

Danny Kravitz in May of 1956 and Roberto Clemente in July of 1956.

Both happened in Forbes Field and I was there to see them. I was 7 years old.

Clemente’s was even more rare. It was inside the park. He’s the only player to do it. And it’s not possible for a game to have a more exciting ending.

Those are two of my earliest sports memories and the Clemente home run is the subject of the first chapter of my book.

REAL FOOTBALL BEING PLAYED UP NORTH

Football season started this weekend.
I’m not talking about futbol. I’m talking about the North American game. The one where humans are allowed to take advantage of their opposable thumbs. The Canadian Football League played a full schedule after opening the season Wednesday night.

ESPN signed a multiyear deal with the CFL, and there will be 17 regular-season games and the Grey Cup tournament available to American viewers. Most NFL fans look down their noses at the CFL. It’s played at the wrong time of year, and it’s played by guys who could never play in the NFL.

Doug Flutie disagrees with that.

He told MMQB.com that the NFL is only now catching up to what he was doing in Canada in 1990.
“The game in Canada was more exciting, more explosive, more wide open. It was what the NFL is now becoming. We were going no-huddle, over the ball, from the time I got up there. No-back sets. Six wide receivers, throwing the ball all over the field. There is a 20-second clock between plays rather than 40. It just creates a pace that the NFL is now realizing to be more exciting — and actually more effective.

“The NFL is turning into a no-huddle, up-tempo, fast-paced, throw-the- football type of game now. The CFL has been that for the last 30 years.”
What Flutie doesn’t mention is that because the NFL has four downs to get 10 yards as opposed to the CFL’s three, there is a lot more dinking and dunking in the NFL.

I haven’t been sold on three downs instead of four yet, but I do know that three downs makes it a lot harder for teams to sit on a lead. Especially when the clock stops after every play in the last three minutes of each half and there are only 20 seconds between plays.
I’ll be watching the CFL this summer. I know it’s not the NFL, but I also know that they’ll be using their hands.

• The Penguins might have succeeded in creating a better locker room when they traded James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patrick Hornqvst and Nick Spaling on Friday night, but they also traded one of the best pure goal scorers on the planet. New general manager Jim Rutherford immediately pointed out that he thought that Hornqvist, who has a reputation for playing in the dirty areas, would make them a better playoff team.

He’s probably right, because Neal’s game, for whatever reason, didn’t translate very well to the playoffs. That might be more of an indictment of the league than of Neal, but the Penguins can’t wait for the idiots in the league office to be like every other major sport and allow its skilled, exciting star players to shine in the most important, most-watched games.

Most fans, despite the fact that they don’t get a share of the winnings or a day with the Stanley Cup, would rather have a boring Cup winner than a really entertaining contender.
The Neal trade might end up being exactly what the Penguins need to become a better playoff team, but they got a little less exciting to watch.
That might not be a problem for the people who get in free, but that long sellout streak at the Consol Energy Center hasn’t been a result of mucking and grinding.

• If NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had a sense of humor he would have worn a Santa Claus suit in Philadelphia this weekend.

• I’ve seen enough of Gregory Polanco to believe that the Pirates would have at least four or five more wins if he had been on the roster to start the season. Of course, that might have jeopardized 2018, and we can’t have that.

• Josh Harrison is the Pirates’ MVP right now. It took him a while to be given as many chances to fail as a lot of other less-talented players. The fact that he is 5-foot-8 might have something to do with that. Joe Morgan is 5-7. He’s in the Hall of Fame.

• The Wall Street Journal was nice enough to publish a Writhing Scorecard for the World Cup. Geoff Foster counted 302 players who were seen rolling around in pain in the first 32 games. I doubt you could count 32 NFL or NHL players writhing around in an entire season.

Most of the writhing was done by teams that were ahead because they have more interest in wasting time. Teams that were behind accounted for 40 “injuries” and 12:30 of writhing time. Teams with the lead faked 103 injuries and spent about 50 minutes writhing.

• The best analysis of the Penguins that I heard last week came from NHL Network analyst and former NHL general manager Craig Button on my talk show: “The Penguins have depended on too few for too much for too long.”

DROP THE FRIGGIN PHONE

This video, of course, has gone viral because that’s what humans do in 2014. We share videos of people doing sick things.

It’s hard not to focus on the vicious beating that is taking place on the video and here’s hoping the woman spends YEARS in prison for her starring role.

But what about the asshole or assholes who are recording it?

How does a normal human being stand there and, instead of intervening, take out a phone and record it?

Is the person who recorded the video feeling good about all the attention it’s getting around the world?

When he/she showed it to friends did anybody ask him/her why he/she didn’t stop the beating?

Probably not.

Sick.

LEGACY SCHMEGACY

Every ESPN TV and radio platform, when it isn’t shoving the World Cup in your face, is telling you that you really need to care about where Lebron James ends up next year.

I don’t care where he ends up because I don’t care about the NBA, but I understand it’s a story and it’s important to a lot of people.

What I don’t get is all the “legacy” talk.

I keep hearing and seeing discussions about LeBron’s legacy and how it will be affected if he leaves Miami and ends up on his third team.

Does anybody REALLY care about his legacy?

Does LeBron REALLY care about his legacy?

Why should he?

He should do whatever he thinks will make him happy now.

Do you really think that Wayne Gretzky cares that he made that stop in St. Louis to play for the Blues?

Would it have made sense for him to stay in Edmonton instead of agreeing to the trade to Los Angeles because it would make him happier now as a 53 year old man?

The media love to talk about this stuff, but can they really expect the players to take it seriously?

Myron Cope would say that the people obsessing on LeBron’s legacy sound like a bunch of card party women.

I would never say that in 2014 because it’s politically incorrect.

I wouldn’t want it to affect my legacy.

WORLD CUP? NO THANKS

It’s World Cup soccer time again.

Yep, every four years the planet Earth has a party, and I’m not invited. Well, actually, that’s wrong.

Everybody’s invited, I just have no interest in going. I’ve tried and I just can’t get into soccer.

Is it because I’m old?

There’s a good chance. I was a kid in the 1950s and 1960s. Do you know how many kids I knew who played soccer?

None.

I did not know one kid who played the game and was never asked to play. There was a mysterious organization near where I grew up called the Beadling Soccer Club. But I didn’t know anybody who belonged to it, and it was probably considered a subversive organization by the adults in my life.

Of course, I didn’t know one kid who played hockey, either, and I didn’t learn to skate until I was in my mid-30s, but I love hockey.

Maybe it’s no more complicated than the fact that I don’t have any interest in seeing humans play with a ball without using their hands. I’d probably like the sport a lot more if it was OK to pick up the ball and run with it.

I never played rugby, but I enjoy watching it every once in a while.

The best description I’ve come across for soccer was in a piece written in 2009 by Wabash College philosophy professor Stephen H. Webb, who wrote, “Think of two posses pursuing their prey in opposite directions without bullets in their guns.”

Webb also struck a chord with me when he compared soccer to baseball. He feels, as do I, that soccer is taking the place of baseball for lots of kids because it’s so much easier to join a group of kids and chase a ball around than it is to learn how to catch, throw and hit a baseball. Then there is the unavoidable individual attention that comes with each at-bat.

“The spectacle of your failure was so public that it was like having all of your friends over to your home to watch your dad force you to eat your vegetables,” Webb wrote about baseball.

North American sports such as baseball, football, basketball and hockey seem to do a better job of toughening kids up with a lot less writhing.

I still don’t get the writhing.

There’s no right or wrong here. I hope not liking soccer doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s a matter of taste. And maybe I’ll try again in four years. Meanwhile, you and the three billion other people will have to try to enjoy the party without me.

• There is no better example of the stupid and corrupt things that government will do with other people’s money than when politicians partner with teams and/or sports promoters. The waste and corruption associated with the World Cup being in Brazil is of epic proportions and will probably only be surpassed by the Olympics going there in 2016.

• In almost every case of government waste and corruption associated with the awarding of major international sporting events, it was only made possible by massive media cheerleading.

The American media, however, seems a lot more willing to expose the corruption associated with the major international events than it has been with the corruption and waste associated with the use of taxpayer funding for stadiums and arenas in cities here.

Billions have been given to major professional sports teams over the last 25 or 30 years and that has been no less wasteful or corrupt. It just happened in smaller increments. You know, only $300 or $400 million at a time.

• Am I the only person in Western Pennsylvania who doesn’t think Le’Veon Bell should be anointed the Steelers’ No. 1 running back for this season? The Steelers signed well-traveled back LeGarrette Blount as a free agent and the consensus seems to be that he will make a nice supplemental/short yardage back.

The Steelers will be Blount’s fourth team in four years and that raises a boatload of questions, but nothing in his career suggests that he should be limited to a few carries a game.

In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The more carries he gets, the better he is. Blount has carried the ball 15 times or more in 15 games. In those games, he averaged 4.95 yards a carry. He averaged more than five yards a carry eight times and more than seven yards per carry three times. He averaged less than four yards a carry only three times in those 15 games.

Bell never averaged five yards a carry in a game last season. He carried the ball 15 times or more in 12 games. In four of those, he averaged less than three yards per carry.

None of this is to say Bell stinks or even that he shouldn’t be considered the No. 1 back going into training camp. It’s just that Blount’s numbers and his highlight reel say that it should be an open competition.

John Steigerwald writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.