Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dick's Move To Golf Pros

Not Shown: Shoppers
Yes, I am, at heart, a 12-year-old boy. Anyhoo...

Today, Dick's Sporting Goods laid off 500 PGA pros from its various golf shops, because, well, um, capitalism. People haven't been buying enough golf gear to keep all of these people in snooty tips and recommendations for the latest $300+ set of irons, so after a month of massive mark downs (I, personally, scored last year's Taylor driver for less than two rounds with cart at my local muni), the ax fell.

And it's not just the problem for a single retail chain, or the sudden unemployment of hundreds of men and women who richly deserve poverty for being better at the game than I will ever be. Television ratings for the British Open were through the floorboards because Tiger Woods isn't Tiger Woods any more, and golf continues to be something that fewer and fewer people want to do, or watch. A course in the U.S. closes every few days, and new ones aren't being opened. This, despite an aging populace that's supposed to be good for golf, because, um, well, golf is hard and frustrating and it appeals to people who have had that beaten into them over decades. Also, it helps to be old so that your family doesn't care if you abandon them for five hours and beyond to slug your way through a course.

Also, um, golf is a choice and can be expensive, so, well, all of that. Golf is dying, or at the very least getting course corrected back to niche status, and as it tends to take up a lot of space and water, it's even an eco-friendly thing to root for its demise. Die, golf, die!

And if you really want to know the true health of the game, I dare you -- honestly -- to give up your email address to a course and play a round. The only way to get more progressively desperate and persistent communication, especially if you don't come back real soon, is to be a cute teenage girl who pity dates a chub.

And to this, I say, Yes and Amen and Yes, Please, Chub, Beg Me Some More. I likes it when they beg.

The comedian Lewis Black, an avid golfer, has a great rant about what asshats (um, no, he didn't say hats, but I haz advertisers) golfers are, and how every golfer claims to be a fan of nature, but would chain saw any tree in his path to give him a better shot at the green. It's worth finding, really, because like all rants and comedy, it's more true than exaggeration.

I'll also go one further... I have, as a golfer, as much interest and appreciation for anyone other than me (and assuming I'm playing better than them, my immediate friends) as I do the trees.

The people on the hole in front of me are clearly going too goddamned slow, while the people behind me are clearly going too goddamned fast. The fact that there are other people on the course also means that there's likely to be a ranger twerp tooling around, giving me grief for the lack of a 90-degree angle on the fairway with the cart, or telling me some such nonsense about pace. And all of you other people are clearly hogging the cart girl. She is mine, I tell you, mine all mine. If I hit a ball in your fairway, I need you to give me time and space to hit the recovery shot. If you hit your ball into my fairway, you are clearly too bad to be playing this game. And so on, and so on. Golfers are asshats, and that goes double for me when I've got a club in my hand.

As a golfer, I have, of course, an excuse. In the late 1990s, before my first child was born and I lost the ability to leave the house for well over a decade (because, well, the second came 5.25 years later), I spent a month in Golf Heaven. That would be southern Oregon, where the combination of dubious development choices (build more places that old white Californians will want to white flight to!), low population density and the seasonal lure of hunting combined to give me my choice of 4 and 5 star courses on weekends that were damned near deserted. I'd get there in the early afternoon, pay something like $25 to walk (Alas, I was young) for 18 holes, and wind up playing 36, because, well, the people who ran the course just went the hell home at 5pm, rather than stare at the walls in the clubhouse. The weather was idyllic, there would be no one else on the course, and I played some of the best rounds of my life there.

And if all of you other people would just not be on the course, and stop buying gear entirely so that the stores just put brand new gear in dumpsters for me to scrounge for free, I'd get that good again, and the game could be the best thing ever. I'd also become 15 years younger. Simple plan, really.

So, Dick's... any further sales, now that you're saving so much on employee salaries?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If Donald Sterling Stays, Does Anyone Else?

Hopefully, Not For Long
Lead story today: the No, Really? revelation that if Donald Sterling remains the owner of the Clippers, head coach and easily hired professional Doc Rivers would likely step down.

At which point you really should ask: why just Rivers?

Start with the sponsors, who would have to be spectacularly tone deaf to sign on to this train wreck if the pariah of America is involved. Chris Paul is active in the NBA players' union, makes real bank from endorsements, and would be welcomed with open arms by every team in the NBA. If he decides that this is an inhospitable working environment, and that his contract is null and void, the NBA isn't going to rule against him. The same exact thing goes for Blake Griffin. DeAndre Jordan blossomed under Rivers, and has his whole career ahead of him; he's also going to stop being very notable once Paul stops feeding him all of those sweet lobs. And so on, and so on.

The simple fact of the matter is that the act of raising this lawsuit is all of the evidence that anyone should need that Sterling is no longer mentally competent enough to be trusted with anything greater than ordering lunch, and maybe not even that. We're talking about a man whose team sold for an utterly absurd amount of money after the biggest PR disaster in the history of sports, who is alleging that the amount wasn't enough, and that the person who arranged this can't do anything. After, well, falling for the oldest and saddest trick in the book, which is when rich old men think young women want to be there for anything except the payoff.

So, once more with feeling...

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver really can't wait on justice, no matter how quickly it seems to be moving.

If Sterling is someone involved in the NBA, even in preseason games, the NBA can't be involved with him, or whoever takes the paycheck and puts on his jersey.

Because no matter what's handed down from the league offices, it's going to look like the league has tacitly endorsed Sterling, and not done enough to be rid of him. That the pariah has won, and that all of these proud African-American multi-millionaires have to work for a man that might be the most notorious racist in the country, if not the world. And that every NBA team is also complicit, since they share revenue with Sterling, and more or less pay him to be in the league with them.

So, not to put too fine a point on this, or go too far into what appears to be hyperbole...

But honestly, has there ever been a bigger threat to the league?

Tim Donaghy made the world doubt the veracity of officiating. Kermit Washington, a huge and powerful black man, nearly killed a beloved white player on the court in the 1970s. Michael Ray Richardson and Roy Tarpley made PR nightmares with rampant and recidivist drug abuse. Ted Stepien destroyed the Cavs and ruined competitive balance in ways you wouldn't tolerate in a fantasy league. Charles Oakley was borderline terrifying on the court, and extended it outwards with the collection of gambling debts. Michael Jordan was the subject of relentless rumors in the wake of his mid-career baseball sojourn, has been a historically bad GM, and ran a hard-line stance that helped caused a ridiculous lockout year. David Stern helped grease the skids and salt the earth in Seattle and Vancouver.

But all of these men were minor rogues compared to Sterling. All of these men could have been, and in the case of Donaghy and Stepien, removed. All of these men, with the exception of Donaghy and Stepien, contributed something positive to the Association in the mix of their misdeeds, and had fans of their own, especially when they were performing for their laundry.

No one has ever, unless they were receiving a direct and immediate cash payment, felt kindly towards Donald Sterling. And no one ever will.

So it's not a case of Sterling or Rivers.

It's Sterling or the NBA.

Or, at least, the NBA as we know it.

Anyone else feel like rooting for Sterling's prostrate cancer about now?

Tony Dungy Is The Worst Kind Of Christian

Maybe You Can Shut Up Now, Tony
An aside: long-time readers of the blog know my steadfast appre- ciation and respect for the Shooter Mom. She's better than me at picking games against the spread, competes effectively in fantasy football, might be the hardest working person I know, and so on, and so on.

But there's something else about her. She's the best kind of Christian.

I've got a relative who has been down all kinds of bad road in the last decade. I won't get into the details, but he's done time, and has made many people in my family wonder if the best and safest move would be to get some distance from him. Mom didn't do that. She was never a doormat for his poor choices, but she also never stopped giving him chances. Something about seven time seventy goes here, for those of you familiar with Scripture. (Me, I just remember stuff.) He's gotten his life together and has had a much better year, and while I wouldn't bet the farm on his continued recovery, the difference is night and day, and so is the amount of relief in the family from this.

Now, I have no idea if Mom's support and involvement made any impact here. No one can know, really. But she inspires me, and loads more people, too, really, to be better. To have more charity, while not putting myself or my family at risk.

And now, we can compare this good woman to one of the nation's most public Christians, ex-Colts and Bucs football coach Tony Dungy.

Today, in a relative media vacuum, Dungy decided that what the world really needed was to hear his opinion about the NFL's first openly gay player, 7th round Rams DL Michael Sam. And his opinion was that he would not have picked Sam if he was still coaching. Not because he doesn't think Sam is talented, not because he thinks he shouldn't have the opportunity, but because it's not going to go smooth.

Now, it would be in poor taste to note that Dungy, an evangelical  and the national spokesman for the fatherhood program "All Pro Dad", had a 18-year-old son who hung himself from a ceiling fan. With more than a little evidence pointing to the fact that said son was gay, and probably didn't feel very supported by his father in that affiliation.

And maybe that, too, isn't very smooth.

So maybe, just maybe, he's not the right person to ask about Michael Sam. Or a man that should have media report his opinion about this sort of thing out of any kind of respect for the dead, since he doesn't seem to have even a semblance of taste or tact.

But let's just leave that aside.

You know what else didn't go smoothly? The first black player in any league. Or the first Jew, Latino, Arab, and if you go back far enough, Italian or Irishman.

That's the deal with being first. It's not smooth. Frontiers are not known for their smoothness.

They are, however, known for the high nosed people who stand on the sidelines and crap on those that go on. Like, say, the people who emigrated to the New World, or who packed up and went West, or who tried to work out a new way of life in any place where just doing the same thing wasn't enough for them.

Because that's the real issue here with Dungy. Crapping on Sam, and subtly making the case that anyone who drafts him isn't as smart and moral as you, isn't Christian at all. Regardless of where you stand on whether or not Sam can make the grade, or if you feel that he's only a celebrity due to a political agenda, rooting against pioneers makes you a piece of crap.

And un-American, too.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

South Philly Crickets

Sing For Ruben
In my routine review of the other sites in Blogfrica, I see headers like "Five trades the Phillies must make" and "When will the Phillies start their fire sale" and "Which prospects will the Phillies promote?"

And it's not even good click bait, folks. The topic doesn't draw page views, or talk radio callers, or much of anything. Because no one in Philadelphia has cared about this team since, um, well... not this year, really. And they care less than last year, and the year before.

People talk about how negative Philadelphia fans are, as if there is anything unique about an Eastern city showing displeasure when they pay top dollar to see bottom performance. (For evidence of this, try watching a Yankee home game when the populace isn't making nice to the dying days of Derek Jeter.) But here's just how low the Phillies have sunk in the collective consciousness: no one really cares if they fire sale off assets, because until the absolute failure that is GM Ruben Amaro Jr. is gone, no one thinks the fire sale will go any better than the current train wreck.

And the striking thing is that, all things considered, things have gone well for the Phillies this year. Marlon Byrd, an aging OFer coming off a career year with a history of PED abuse, has performed well. Ryan Howard got a little hot there for a while and didn't look like he was totally spent. Chase Utley deserved his All-Star berth and stayed healthy. Jimmy Rollins didn't pout or be divisive after the spring training benching. Jonathan Papelbon shook off his first week struggles and reinvented himself; he's been effective. The bullpen isn't the tire fire it usually is, with Ken Gilles actually being the rare prospect who has been worth watching. They haven't been crushed by injuries.

Instead, they've been, well, bad. As usual, as ever, because there is no way that a team with an aging star core that doesn't get regenerated, supported by one of the worst farm systems in baseball, and operated by a GM who seems to think that statistical analysis is for sissies and people who aren't the genius he is, can be anything else. They were predicted to be bad. They were bad last year. They'll be bad again next year, no matter who the GM is, because the earth has been salted, and then Amaro dumped it into the wells, too. .

The amazing thing about this has been the ownership's ability to eat manure and convince themselves that it's caviar. Attendance keeps dropping. Interest and ratings as well. After a period of time where it looked like the baseball team was going to take over, or at least share the crown, with the Eagles, the town has gone to full-time Chip Kelly analysis. No one is excited about the arrival of Maikel Franco, or Jesse Biddle, or interested in whether or not Domonic Brown or Darrin Ruf is going to be worth a damn, or what the club might get for dealing Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels.

Instead, there are crickets, and an apathetic waiting for the end of Amaro, who has a beautiful yard, the largest single-team market in MLB, and absolutely no answers or excuses.

There's a much worse sound than booing, folks. It's silence. And the silence around the Phillies is deafening.

Chris Kluwe and the Vikings: Hammered Down

Kinky
There is a saying in Japan: the nail that sticks up gets hammered down. It's nicely indicative of where that society is, in re confirming to societal norms, and not putting yourself above the people who pay your pay check. And that's Not America.

The intersection of where football players end and regular humans begin is, I think, found in punters. You've got a group of guys who are expected to be physical -- punters make tackles and get hit far more often than field goal kickers, which is to say, not very often. They hang out with kickers, are as dependent on their long snapper, but they don't have the opportunity to win or lose games, at least, not very often. Both jobs are much more risk than reward, and when you do the job correctly, most people don't appreciate it very much. It's just what was expected.

Since this is the intersection of real football players and regular people, it's small wonder that punters aren't generally assimilated into the regular locker room. Maybe they have regular lineup backgrounds before being shunted into this career, perhaps as a QB that didn't quite make it, or a defensive player that loved the game, but didn't quite have the wheels. There's also a strong foreign influence here, especially with big guys from Aussie rules football or some other sport. You have one job, as the saying goes, and most of the time, that job doesn't seem like it's something that another person is actively trying to prevent you from doing, unlike every other position on the field. It's a difficult one, but it also seems like one where you just won some athletic lottery to win, rather than earned on your own. (This is, of course, a fallacy, as it is with every sport where the sluice of talent is as crowded as it is in the NFL, but so be it.)

Which leads us to the curious case of Chris Kluwe, the longtime Vikings punter who was able to be a bit of a free spirit, especially by NFL standards, when he was bombing the hell out of the ball and being one of the best in the league at his position. As Kluwe aged and the Vikings got worse at talent evaluation, his kicking came under question, as distance became less important than direction and hang time. It's a tale as old as time: individual employee is asked to subjugate his personal numbers for the overall betterment of the company. He does so, because there probably isn't an option, and puts himself at risk. Especially if there are other aspects of his personality that come into question.

And, well, that's the other shoe to drop. As America moves with fits and starts towards a society that's truly ambivalent about human sexuality (as the old saying goes, just don't startle the horses), it does so unevenly, with some regions moving much faster than others, and some, well, not at all. This is where the hammer is put to the nail that there are no red states or blue states, there is just the United States... because, well, no, there is. Regions where change does not happen quickly, where it has never happened quickly, will resist. Men from those regions will make their views known, as they must. And progress will happen, but only on an individual level.

So Kluwe, when presented with an opportunity to establish a post-football personal brand (or, more charitably, when he saw a clear injustice that, as a public figure, he could help to fix), took up his keyboard to work out a wonderfully profane response to a homophobic legislator. And in that moment, he crossed into the realm of More Trouble Than He Was Worth, at least to some members of the Vikings...

And, well, that's just not something you can do as an employer. At least, not legally.

Now, I get why Vikings Fan might think Kluwe was entirely to blame here. He had one job, a job that many think they'd be very happy to do, and nearly everyone prefers that athletes be seen and not heard. Had he just chosen to stay quiet about his feelings, he probably gets another year or two out of the team, and shuffles off into post-football anonymity as that guy who was the punter for a long time.

But what they really need to see here is that Kluwe is, regardless of where you stand on his politics, something of a hero, and completely within his rights to seek legal restitution. Your employer isn't allowed to terminate you based on your political views, even if you share them with the public. They also aren't allowed to create a hostile work environment towards people who don't share their political views. And when they do, they have to pay, and it's not as if any money that Kluwe gets here is going to wind up in higher ticket prices, or a Vikings team that gets penalized under the salary cap.

The Vikings have more or less confirmed their culpability here; the coach in question that Kluwe alleged to have created the hostile work environment, in response to Kluwe's writing, has been disciplined. They've also decided they don't want to pay Kluwe, because they were going to get rid of him anyway for football reasons... but as the Eagles just showed with DeSean Jackson, teams can decide that at any time.

It's going to get uglier, because that's what happens in cases like this, and Kluwe has decided that he has no more bridges to the NFL left to burn. He's going to win, because the case is open and shut. And rather than hating him for it, everyone who has ever shared their opinion should be glad about it...

Because there, but for the grace of a keyboard and words that actually get noticed and attributed to your identity, go you.

And I, with very little interest in tying my nom de plume with my actual name...