Saturday, January 31, 2009

NFL Free Agency and Job Portability

Dana send me this story from the Harvard Business School's online newsletter where authors note that some positions (in the NFL or in a corporation) are more portable than others:

As research on the National Football League reveals, sometimes the specific nature of a job determines whether a great performer at one company can replicate that performance at another.

Any jobs that require high levels of collaboration are less portable and require more time for the transferred employee to adjust to new surroundings.

This means that my job (college professor) is very portable... my profession is known for cantankerous intellectuals who do everything possible to avoid collaborating with colleagues, including high-minded name calling, petty bickering, and ignoring requests from department chairs. In fact, the system frequently rewards those who are the most obnoxious (the biggest curmudgeons get the fewest committee assignments and therefore have more time to research--and publications lead to bigger pay raises and quicker promotions).

Now, if only I could cash in on my acerbic personality and get paid like a NFL wide receiver...

Update: Dana recommends I watch the following video.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Olympic Games Presentation--Discussion

If you attended the presentation today (see the announcement below) or watched it online (it can be viewed here: and have any questions or comments, please write them in the comments section and I'll do my best to respond. This talk was part of a lecture series on sports and global society organized by Brigham Young University's David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Talk RE Olympics Wed. at Noon

If you live in or around Provo, please feel free to attend a lecture I'll be giving this Wed. at noon the the library (HBLL) auditorium.

Jesus Says: "Win, But Not By Too Much"

Alas! Gone are the days of muscled Christianity, when men proved their valor and their virtue by beating their opponents senseless.

Dale sends me the news that a women's basketball team from a Christian high school in Texas beat their opponents (from a school that specializes in helping students with learning "differences") by the score of 100-0. And now, ashamed they let themselves be overcome with pride, they are asking the league to let them forfeit that win. Forgive them Mark Cuban for they have sinned!

We do have a long tradition of attributing sporting victories to God (as if he cared more about my team winning at the buzzer than helping starving children). And, as I have noted before, sports and the divine have been intertwined for millennia. But, to quote Eugene Struthers, we have taken it to a "whole 'nother level" in this country. When the U.S. hockey team beat the Soviets in Lake Placid in 1980, it was dubbed, unsurprisingly, a "miracle." A long, last minute pass in football is called a "Hail Mary." And most NASCAR drivers have an unseen co-pilot: Jesus.

But don't get me wrong. If you're Christian you should win, thereby proving the superiority of your belief system. And do thank God when you win, since He would rather see you win than your agnostic rivals (even if they do have learning disabilities). But when you win, be sure to win meekly, humbly... and preferably wearing your new team uniform: sackcloth and ashes.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Tennis Hooligans

Two words I never thought I would put together as labels for a post: Tennis & Holliganism.

It seems the Australian Open tennis championship has begun to resemble an Eastern European soccer match...

Groups of rival fans threw chairs at each other in the beer garden outside center court when simmering tension boiled over under the hot Melbourne sun.

One woman was knocked cold when a chair struck her head.

Police arrested two men and ejected another 30 people from the grounds after the rival supporters traded punches and kicks.

Read the rest of the the story here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

And Still More on Doping: Willy Voet's Sex, Lies and Little Bikes

My review of Willy Voet's 2000 novel Sexe, mensonges et petits vélos appeared Monday on Podium Cafe. His novel is about a young rider's first year in big time European cycling. You can read the full review here.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Just In: Mayor of Pittsburgh Bans Use of Word "Card"

With his beloved Steelers in the Super Bowl against the Arizona Cardinals, the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, who changed his name to Stellerstahl when the Steelers played the Ravens last week, has now banned the words "cardinal" and "card" from being used in Pittburgh and has instructed residents to replace these words with "steeler" and "steel."

"For the next two weeks, this city is Steeler Town, baby!" the mayor told reporters. "I hereby ban all allusions to red fowl. I have instructed city police and citizenry to enforce this steeler-only rule." He continued, "Hear me now. Until we win this game, you could call my latest law the 'steeler rule.'" Ravenstahl then added, "Get it? Steeler rule. Get it?"

Elementry school children have already begun using "flashsteels," tourist shops are selling "post steels," bartenders have taken to "steeling" potential underage drinkers, and the local Catholic diocese has begun referring to members of church hierarchy as "steelers."

Members of the steel workers union quickly forced management to change their timecards to read, "timesteels." Union boss Don Delong put it this way: "They accuse us of stealing from them every time we take a break, so they were happy to make the change."

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin told reporters, "that Arizona team thinks they can beat us? I'll go on record right now and say, an Arizona victory is not in the steels. We are going to go Obama on their sorry McCain a**es. We got to the Super Bowl with grit and hard work. They made it with smoke and mirrors. They're living in a house of steels and we're going to knock it down."

Local heart patients were not amused. Larry Mahler, a patient at St. Luke's Medical Center, grumble, "I'm scheduled for a steeliogram this afternoon. What if my steeliologist doesn't know about the new law yet? What if, God forbid, the unthinkable happens and my nurse screams out 'He's going into steeliac arrest!' and nobody understands?"

Long-time Pittsburgh resident and fortune teller Bill Balinski is suing the city for violating his free speech. At issue is the large neon sign affixed to Balinsky's Grant St. store. Balinski maintains that, "The cost of changing the sign to 'Steels read here' should be assumed by the city. Neon don't come cheap."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

When Humans Fly

Scott sends me one of the most incredible videos I've ever seen. It's not a contest in the sense that you have a winner and a loser, it's a contest in the sense that if you survive the "jump," you win... But this sport is eerily artistic and beautiful... and insane.

wingsuit base jumping from Ali on Vimeo.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sports and Politics in Pittsburgh

Upon reading the following article on Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl's temporary name change to "Steelerstahl," I couldn't not post a link to it. While perhaps not as extreme as officially changing your name to Chad Ocho Cinco or Stylez G. White, Ravenstahl's removing the "Raven" from his name in preparation for Pittsburgh's upcoming AFC championship game against the Baltimore Ravens is another noteworthy move by a politician to tap into the sports ethos of the populous he governs (in this case, the rabid fans of the Steel City). My question is: Why not just remove the "Raven" and simply go by "Stahl" instead of being redundant (Steelerstahl)?

Here is the ESPN story.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Since We're on the Topic of Doping...

Scott sent me this link to an article in Slate that reports on a recent "doping" trend in baseball. Players are getting doctors to write them prescriptions for medication designed to combat Attention Deficit Disorder. It just so happens that this medication (a stimulant) can also enhance perception and improve performance on the baseball field. It also turns out that Major League baseball players suddenly suffer from ADD at a much higher rate than the rest of the population.

Are they able to get away with it because of the strong players union? Because the powers-that-be believe they need it to function normally in society (maybe they do)? Because MLB doesn't yet recognize the drugs' performance enhancing effects?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Cycling and Doping--Response

Ophir's response to my previous post was so good I have to reprint it here on the "front" page:

Interesting choice of "options." Suppose that's the inherently limited nature of fixed choice responses... I'm not convinced that cycling as an athletic contest is all that unique from other professional sports. What is unique however, and I do think goes a long way in explaining doping, is the widely unequal representative structure of professional cycling. In no other professional international sport do athletes have so little voice or representation (i.e. union). This power imbalance makes for insecure workers willing to take additional risks to secure employment. Unlike pro North American sports where athletes enjoy strong union representation and usually a college education to fall back on, cycling does not have this college-to-pro pipeline where additional educational skills can be acquired which gives athletes more options post-pro career.

The dynamic team nature of bike racing makes judging individual performances of all but the top team leaders very difficult to quantify. Unlike other races where the first one over the line is the strongest, it's hard to quantify all the early-race grunt work done by domestiques. This makes evaluating contract renewals very subjective and makes for very insecure riders.

The question I often ask myself is why are folks not more upset at the sports governing bodies, the sponsors and race organizers? Each of these organizations have directly contributed to a climate where doping comes to be seen as a form of job security.

Rather, doping gets framed in the US (predictably) as a moral issue. Distilled, reduced and grossly simplified to a modern day morality play of good and evil.

Thanks for the interesting post. Interested to hear what others think.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Survey on Cycling and Doping

A recent poll conducted by the Vs. television network contained the following question:

Which of the following statements best describes your view on the doping scandals that are publicized during the Tour De France?
I am disappointed when I hear cyclists are doping, but it personally does not deter me from watching

How would you answer this?

I didn't answer A because that response strikes me as hypocritical. "I watch and enjoy the spectacle, but prefer not to know that the great entertainment I get is powered by EPO."

B is even worse. "Just ignore it, focus on the positive and the bad will go away." Sounds like Rumsfeld trying to describe Irak.

I probably answered C, even though I don't like that answer either. I do think turning to doping is more understandable (not justifiable, but understandable) in cycling than in other sports, but only partly because of the grueling nature of the sport.

Finally, D would be a defensible answer, I think, but it also ignores the complicated history of doping and the Tour de France.

The fact is that doping, in one form or another, has been around since the Tour began. I have argued before that doping in cycling is linked to the fact that cyclists, from the beginning, have been considered more machine than man: the bike--and what it represented in terms of technological progress--was (and perhaps still is) more important than the rider.

Pearl Izumi's Winter 2008 catalog declares on its cover: "The Superiority of the Human Machine. It's the most perfectly designed machine the world has ever known. It can turn pizza and powdered donuts into massive kilowatts of mountain-eating horsepower..." etc. So improving the human machine with something more effective than donuts doesn't seem like much of a stretch.

And doping was around before the Tour de France and before bicycles were invented.

A twelfth-century song tells of a young man who must carry his true love to the top of a mountain in order to earn her father's approval for their marriage. The young woman sends him to meet with her aunt who provides him with a special drink in order to give him enough strenght to complete the impossible task (the strongest in the land had already tried and failed). He makes it to the top, but like Tom Simpson, collapses and dies from the effort.

It seems doping and mountains stages have always gone together.

So my answer to the survey question is "None of the above." I watch the Tour de France knowing that riders are trying to get the most out of their bodies any way they can. I just hope they survive the climbs.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Nike Goes "Green" and Becomes "Socially Responsible"

This college bowl season, look at team jerseys and note how ubiquitous the Nike swoosh has become in the NCAA. Nike has spent millions to associate their brand with anything that may be even remotely cool... and universities have become their partners in crime.

And recently, this "socially responsible" and self-proclaimed "green" corporation has teamed up with the "environmentally responsible" folks over at Hummer to bring us the latest cool thing.

The H3T's tires evolved from discussions between GM Design and Nike Design regarding the question of off-road performance footwear influencing off-road performance tires. The result is the innovative ACG TA tire, which addresses multiple traction environments with sand paddles, traction pads and multiple durometers of rubber defined by different-color breakouts - much like the design of Nike's ACG trail and hiking shoes.

Nike's influence on the interior includes the use of its Sphere material on the H3T's seats. The lightweight material, used by Nike in specialized clothing, can cool or warm the body without mechanical means. It also conveys a technical aesthetic that looks perfectly at home in the H3T. The seats also are enhanced by Nike Epic backpacks, which are integrated into seat-back clamshells and released with elastic bungees.

Nice. Apparently they thought overconsuming would be the next big thing.... I hope they are wrong.

I would like Nike to make the following New Year's resolutions:

1) Pay workers directly and take responsibility for them instead of paying subcontractors who siphon off money and force employees to work too many hours for too little pay. (My colleague Jeff Ballinger, who notified me of the Nike-Hummer partnership, has been to the subcontracted plants and seen the abuses taking place in person.)

2) Instead of teaming up with Hummer, team up with hybrids and promote energy efficient homes.

In short, let me call you "socially responsible" and "green" without having to type quotes around the terms.