Thursday, April 29, 2010

Baseball and Arizona Politics

Jarom points me to this article about Major League Baseball's potential role in the Arizona immigration law debate. Opponents of the Arizona law hope that baseball will move the All-Star game away from Phoenix to send a message. The article notes how the NFL once put pressure on the state to adopt the MLK holiday.

I note that MLB is not the NFL and has rarely (if ever) taken progressive positions. "Bud Selig" and "revolutionary" do not go together. For that matter, the only phrase I can in good conscience link to "Bud Selig" is "slow drying paint."

Opponents of the law should probably look elsewhere to put pressure on Arizona.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Pinewood Derby and America's Losing Mentality

An occasional contributor to this blog, Sven Wilson has a blog that examines public policy and philosophy. He recently looked at the disconnect between pinewood derbies and the American workplace. It's a fascinating read. Here's the link:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tandem Bike

From the realm of the slightly bizarre, here is a video of a two-man bicycle kick for a goal in Argentina (sent to me by Scott):

I still can't tell who actually scored....

Thursday, April 22, 2010

"Soccer is Stupid!": Sports, Nationalism, and Bad Food

While with a group of her high-school friends, my daughter mentioned that she liked watching soccer. She was shocked by her friends' vituperative reactions: "Soccer is stupid!" "Soccer is for babies!" "They just fall down all the time!" etc.

One interpretation of this response is that since sport is one of the most valuable currencies in America, Americans see their identity threatened by "foreign" sports and must therefore insult them. (Imagine, for example, the media storm that would surround a U.S. presidential candidate who expressed a keen interest in soccer or in Formula 1.)

The French, in contrast, make fun of the British by insulting their food. Since culture and cuisine are valued in France, this type of jingoistic slam makes sense. In the States, insult my green Jell-O or meat loaf, I won't care much. But don't you dare tell me football is too violent or tedious!

In America, where we value sports above all else, soccer is the cultural equivalent of boiled beef and potato pies.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Paris-Roubaix Revisited

Scott sends me the following link that will allow cycling fans to look back over the years of Paris-Roubaix, won this weekend in dominant fashion by Fabian Cancellara (the best cyclist most Americans have never heard of; perhaps the best rider of this generation).

Here are the video clips of Paris-Roubaix going back to the 1940s.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

NCAA Basketball: “A multi-billion-dollar industry”

Driving home from the SLC airport this afternoon, I tuned into The Brian Kenny Show on ESPNradio having just heard that 5(!) underclassmen from John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats declared their draft eligibility this morning. As he discussed Mike Krzyzewski credentials and place on the all time NCAA coaches list (where he is certainly in the top 5 but well behind John Wooden), I remarked Kenny twice refer to modern NCAA basketball as a “multi-billion-dollar industry.” Wow! Realizing I’d bought into the myth of school spirit and the Alma Mater, I had to step back and reflect on this point.

A few reconfirmed reflections from the NCAA Tournament especially stood out:

1) “Cal’s Cats” really have ushered in a new era of “one-and-done” basketball. Education is merely an afterthought—if a thought at all. NCAA basketball really has manifested itself as a vocational school for NBA athletes as of recent. How many stars can you name who have stayed four full years and graduated with a degree in the past 5 years? So-called “scholarships” are but a marketing ploy to draw in potential students and alumni dollars in recruiting the best NBA-bound talent.

2) Branding really is the name of the game in college hoops. Each team’s mascot and insignia are designed to be reproduced and worn with pride at the game (and airport). No longer is it a school, it is a brand. The crowds at Energy Solutions Arena for the SLC stages of the tourney were a visual testament to the post-modern Baudrillardian idea of the saturation of symbols.

3) Not only have schools been reduced to marketing, advertising is rampant and corporate commercialism unabashed in all that surrounds the NCAA tournament. Corry has frequently pointed out that NCAA football is unwatchable because every first down, turnover, score, substitution, etc. is sponsored by a restaurant, tire company, dry cleaner, etc. In watching the Kentucky/West Virginia Elite Eight® match, I was stunned by just how many commercials there were. For every two minutes of basketball, there were 2 minutes, 2 seconds of commercials. In all seriousness, two possessions with no scoring, and the sponsors were at it again. Friends who traveled to Syracuse for the game noted that stoppages were so frequent that coaches were saying nothing and players simply pacing on the court… waiting (like the rest of us) for the smug marker board artist from the UPS commercials to let us get back to the main event.

So, in response to Corry’s recent “What I Watch” post, I have to admit that my love for soccer (MLS, European national clubs, Mexican Primera DivisiĆ³n, etc.) is largely due to the lack of stoppage in the matches and my attraction to baseball (which certainly has gone the way of the market) is attributable (at least in part) to the fact that the very abundance of stoppage allows me to zone out between innings and simply enjoy the bucolic, still unadulterated (despite steroids and, perhaps, only in my heart) pastime within the framed structure of the 9-inning game. Have I viewed my last NCAA tournament? Perhaps so—-the commercialism served with the false pretense of scholastic purity was far too distracting this time around. I realize I am a romantic; but, is it too much to ask that collegiate athletics be a bit more collegial and less commercial?

Does What I Watch = Who I am?

What can you tell about someone based on the sporting events they watch? Here is what I have watched the last couple weeks:

Everton v. Wolverhampton (English Premier league)
Ten minutes of BYU v. Kansas State (second round NCAA tournament)
Real Salt Lake v. Houston Dynamo (MLS)
One inning of Mariners v. Rockies (MLB preseason)
Tour of Flanders (Cycling)
The last 6 minutes of Duke v. Butler (NCAA championship game)
The second half of Arsenal v. Barcelona (UEFA Champions league)


Am I a Euro snob?
Possibly. I am a French professor after all and seek to identify with Europe in my professional life. This could be spilling over into my entertainment choices.

Does age have something to do with it?
I confess I just turned 40. I used to watch more baseball and follow the NCAA tournament from start to finish. I even used to watch NBA games regularly. Now I find basketball rather tedious, and don't have the time to sit through a four hour baseball game. Maybe my shift in preferences suggests a certain boredom with the sports I watched since I was a boy.

Does geography play a role?
Certainly. One of the reasons I am following soccer is because I enjoy going to Real Salt Lake matches and this has sparked an interest in European football as well. If I watched a few minutes of the BYU game it is because I teach at BYU.

What about social class?
I don't like to think of myself as a social climber, but maybe I am... Cycling is something I watched regularly before I started to ride, but that I watch more now that I am a practitioner. And cycling is an expensive sport in the US. So does watching it mean I'm trying to adopt practices of the upper class? Both soccer and cycling are more working class sports in Europe, however. But again, in the US soccer is a sport that has an upper middle class and an immigrant following. Am I trying to show both my social status and my global awareness by following cycling and soccer?

What have you watched in the last 2 weeks? What does the fact that Bob watched three hours of Muddin', two hours of bass fishing, and five hours of hunting programming tell us about him?