Wednesday, February 29, 2012

UCLA and the Red Sox: when reporters delve into disasters

Today, I read two very interesting articles on the struggles of the once mighty UCLA basketball team. One, in Sports Illustrated, went through all the ways in which UCLA coach Ben Howland has failed to hold his athletes accountable to certain standards of behavior. The other, from Sporting News, attempted to defend Coach Howland and his team, attributing the team's struggles to a lack of home games. The level of research of the Sports Illustrated article makes it the more convincing of the two; the Sporting News piece never fully responds to Reeves Nelson's dangerous behavior among other issues. It's also worth noting that this is an exposé in a vein similar to the Boston Globe piece about the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox, so I'm going to use this blog to discuss that piece as well.
Here are my thoughts on the case as a whole:

  • My heart goes out to the UCLA basketball players who were hurt by Nelson. I can't imagine being on a team with someone who made a conscious effort to hurt you. Of all of the issues brought up in college sports, this is certainly one you don't see every day. No wonder Matt Carlino transferred to BYU. I agree with his teammate's assertion "That wasn't quitting. That was just smart."
  • One of the main issues here is entitlement, shown both by the players and by Howland itself. The Sports Illustrated article treats them as somewhat separate issues, but how separate are they really? If Howland considered himself too important to treat his assistant coaches well, perhaps he understood the players' own sense of entitlement and was therefore less inclined to call them out on it.
  • Nelson is portrayed as one of the main villains throughout the piece. But I have to give him credit for the fact that he agreed to speak to the media and acknowledged the mistakes he made. It's clear this kid had problems and needed help. That's not to say what he did wasn't wrong; the article portrays him as a malicious bully, not as a nice person with occasional outbursts. But if you're in charge of a program and you see this kind of behavior happening, it's your job to stop it and your job to figure out whether this is a good kid with problems or a bad kid who doesn't belong on the team. Nelson is portrayed as the latter throughout the piece, but Howland never seemed to consider that he could be either.
  • The Globe piece was about a professional sports team, not a collegiate program. Professional athletes should know that everything they do could be the subject of an article, but the UCLA athletes described as hard-partiers probably didn't think they'd appear in Sports Illustrated for it. But even high school athletes can make headlines for their troublemaking. Athletes, take note: if you play a sport, no matter the level, your life is available for public scrutiny. Learn how to deal with that because it doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
  • Like the Globe piece, this one also relied on anonymous sources. But there's far less room to hide in the UCLA basketball program. Not only are basketball programs smaller, but these sources were identified specifically as players, not simply as members of the organization. That means that they were likely more motivated to talk to the reporters than the Globe's sources. I have much more respect for the basketball players who acted as sources. With nowhere to turn on the team, they found an outlet to ensure that the team's problems would finally see the light. The fact that things aren't going as badly this season drills a hole in that somewhat, but I tend to trust that these sources had good intentions. As for those who spoke to the Globe? If Chris Jones is correct in this Grantland piece that ownership was a major source, then I have no respect for that whatsoever. Actually, I don't have much respect for it anyway.
  • I also agree with the Grantland piece on the use of anonymous sources. I tend not to like it.
  • I wonder what the writers think they are accomplishing by these pieces. It makes you think about why you want to write, what the goal is. The purposes I see are: informing people of information they need to know, telling stories that teach important lessons or highlight great people, trying to persuade people to agree with you (though this is specific for opinion writing), and entertaining people. Where exactly do these pieces fit in with that goal? They can help us engage with some serious issues, but they can also hurt a lot of people. That's not to say that they shouldn't be published, but I want to know what the writers were thinking when the sent in these pieces.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Great Teddy Roosevelt Quotes

Happy Presidents' Day Everyone! I have a whole book of these, but as it is at home right now, I got many from here

1. Do what you can with what you have where you are.
2. Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure... than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.
3. It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.
4. There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.
5. There are good men and bad men of all nationalities, creeds and colors; and if this world of ours is ever to become what we hope some day it may become, it must be by the general recognition that the man's heart and soul, the man's worth and actions, determine his standing.
6. Viewed purely in the abstract, I think there can be no question that women should have equal rights with men.
7. Women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man it should be paid as highly.
8. Keep your eyes on the stars, but remember to keep your feet on the ground.
9. There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to 'mean' horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.
10. Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Va-Lin-Tine's Day Soundtrack

Valentine's Day, or Va-Lin-Tine's Day for Knicks fans and Harvard folks, is as good an excuse as any to listen to good music. If you're celebrating Lin's rise to power, why not check out the Jeremy Lin song?
If you're celebrating love or whining over being single, there are probably some songs that express your feelings. Not sure these express mine, but they're great tunes, nonetheless. These might not all be "love songs" per se, more like variations on the theme.
Many things by Nat King Cole
But L-O-V-E and Unforgettable are pretty hard to beat. For Unforgettable I posted the version with just Nat, but you can find the one with Natalie as well.
I Guess That's Why They Call it the Blues by Elton John
Sir Elton John, if you prefer.
Sister Golden Hair by America
Just one of many 70s songs I love.
Super Trouper by ABBA
ABBA is another great 70s band, but this song was actually released in November of 1980.
Only Time Will Tell by Etta James
This Grantland piece by Jay Caspian Kang informed me of this song. It's fantastic.
September by Earth, Wind & Fire
Try to sit still while listening to this. I dare you.
Cowboy Take Me Away by The Dixie Chicks
If you've got a little country in you.
Any Man of Mine by Shania Twain
If you've got a lot of country in you.
I'm Yours by Jason Mraz
The cutest song ever? It might be.
You Love The Thunder by Jackson Browne
Who doesn't love thunder?
That's What I Like About You by The Romantics
Keep on whispering in my ear, tell me all the things that I wanna hear.
Sweet Child O' Mine by Guns N Roses
If you listen to the lyrics, it's totally about a relationship. But you might be too busy enjoying the guitar.
Let's Spend the Night Together by The Rolling Stones
enough said.

...okay maybe my taste in music isn't that romantic.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Thinking of the Victims: Whitney and Rihanna

In the wake of the legendary Whitney Houston's death, the people I know are choosing to take the high road. I have not heard one condemnation of her drug abuse problems in the days following her death, only posts commenting on what a transcendent voice she had and how beautiful her songs were. This is as it should be. But perhaps it's not going far enough.
Because as society mourns Houston's death and acknowledges her to be a victim, it is also cheering on the return of Chris Brown, a talented musical artist and miserable human being. This article by Sasha Pasulka on Hello Giggles pretty convincingly elaborates all that is wrong with this decision as well as with many of the other responses that came after Brown physically abused his then-girlfriend Rihanna.
The incident certainly hurt Brown's reputation in the eyes of many, but what was shocking was the way in which Rihanna was vilified by many. When the incident became people, many felt that it was her own fault for getting hurt. When she chose not to press charges, so-called "feminists" called her out for it. They say she could have inspired many women to take action. That's certainly true. But no one has the right to criticize a victim of domestic violence for the way in which she responds. If she chooses not to press charges, that is her own decision. As Pasulka notes, Rihanna never signed up to be the "public face" of domestic violence. No one does. It's not the victims' jobs to become that face. Rather, people should make a public effort to condemn it.
And I think Rihanna's responded pretty impressively. She has turned out a number of musical hits where she has ventured into darker territory than she has before including "S&M", "All of the Lights", and "We Found Love", and the music video to "We Found Love" provides a pretty intimate look into her relationship with Brown. This kind of career bounce-back is certainly admirable.
But even if she were not to continue producing popular songs and Brown were to make timeless classics, Rihanna's is still the side we should take. As a victim of violence, she deserves all the support she can get.
Whitney Houston must not die in vain. While there are many reasons why people choose to engage in substance abuse, we must confront the ways in which domestic violence can destroy lives.
Some people say we pay too much attention to celebrities. We may indeed. But one of the benefits of following celebrities is that it gives up the opportunity to appreciate the goodness in people and speak up where we see the injustice. Rihanna is a strong, powerful, talented woman who has been the victim of things no one deserves to experience. Even if you are upset that she did not become a "role model" for domestic violence victims by pressing charges, she can be an example for victims in another way.
She is strong, beautiful, talented, and independent. And she was still abused. What victims can learn is this: what is being done to you is not your fault.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

I can't believe this is even a question.

Sports Center asks "Better Underdog" with a picture of Jeremy Lin next to a picture of Tim Tebow. How on earth is this a question?
Let's compare
High School Hype
1. In high school, Tim Tebow was considered to be one of the top quarterbacks in the country. That's why he got a scholarship. While Jeremy Lin led Palo Alto to the California state championship, he couldn't get a Division 1 scholarship offer. That's why he went to Harvard. Lucky for us.
College Honors
2. Tebow won a Heisman Trophy and two national championships. Jeremy Lin was first-team All Ivy twice, was named a Lou Henson All American, and was one of 11 finalists for the Bob Cousy Award. All of these, of course, are great honors, but perhaps not a Heisman trophy.
3. Pretty straightforward. Tebow was the Denver Broncos' number one draft pick and was 25th overall. Lin was undrafted.
Holding a Job
4. Sure, it wasn't always clear that Tebow would have the starting job. But he was a member of the organization. Lin's journey? He was signed to Dallas's summer team, then signed with Golden State. Then he was released by Golden State. Then he signed with the Rockets. Then the Rockets released him. Then he signed with the Knicks. Then the Knicks sent him to the D-League. And then...
5. Sure Tebow had some exciting wins, and the defeat of the Steelers was impressive. But he was helpless against a New England Patriots defense that really wasn't very good. Lin just took down Kobe Bryant and the Lakers.
Who's the Better Underdog? Pretty much a lay-up.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Congratulations to the New England Patriots

In the wake an extremely disappointing loss in the Super Bowl, many local columnists have been "calling out" members of the Patriots as if they have the football background to do so. In his column, Rick Reilly explains why this is ridiculous. But I'll take it a step further: the Patriots overachieved this season by making it to the Super Bowl.
In a season in which there were no true standout teams, the Patriots did a pretty good job posing as a dominant force in the AFC. The holes were obvious from the beginning. New England had weak defense. In Week 1, they allowed Chad Henne, who would lose his starting job soonafter, to throw for 416 as the lowly Miami Dolphins posted 24 points on the Patriots' defense. The defense would play similarly weakly for the rest of the season. Remember that New England spotted Buffalo 21 points in Week 17 (one New York radio station said Belichick did it on purpose but I doubt it). In Week 13, the Patriots allowed the then-winless Colts to score three touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Invincible they were not.
But what about the offense? Yes, it was impressive, but it succeeded through its creativity and toughness moreso than through its talent. Without a running game, the Patriots relied on 5'9" Wes Welker, two tight-ends, and a 32-year-old. Are those four fantastic? Sure, but how many other teams would have been able to use them that effectively?
Rather than look at this as a season in which the Patriots somehow "fell short", it should instead be seen as one in which the Patriots took a team without a strong defense, significant deep threats, or a strong running game, and made it to the Super Bowl. To me, that's a pretty impressive season.
It would have made Myra proud.