Hub to Fun: Drop Dead!
My public-minded son wrote a letter to the Globe last week which got published. Josh diffidently suggested that staging an Olympic Games in Boston would be an enjoyable experience for area residents, and therefore, why not do it?
Reaction was swift and came in two forms, teasing from his friends (my favorite comment: It'll solve Boston's stray dog problem!) and condemnation from the bottom-dwelling psychopaths who comprise newspaper Website comment threads. The latter scum, alas, had their finger on the pulse of our fair city/state/region. It is breathtaking if unsurprising how quickly, vehemently and negatively Boston, from the power elite down to afternoon radio talk show callers, moved to ridicule a survey which claimed the city actually might be able to host a Games if it put its mind to it.
Which is true as far as it goes. Hell, if Atlanta could do it, Boston can. Frickin' Cairo could've done about as well as Atlanta, but that's another story. A recent article in Sports Illustrated discussing U.S. host cities for the 2024 Games noted that Boston is just the sort of town the International Olympic Committee LIKES to have host Summer Games -- a noted tourist attraction with lots of services for rich people which IOC members will sponge up when they attend. That last point was mine, not the magazine's.
So if Boston wished to host an Olympics, it could happen. But of course, we don't want to. The Globe, reveling in its traditional role of civic wet blanket, published columns gleefully attacking the idea. Tom Keane, that fungal blight of the op-ed section, had my favorite response, to wit, Boston doesn't need to put on a Games. We KNOW we're great, not like those insecure wannabe world-class cities like Barcelona, London and Tokyo. It was the perfect Masshole expression of arrogance without accomplishment. On NECN, I saw that some cluck has already formed a group to oppose a Boston Olympic bid that as of yet doesn't exist -- preemptive dog-in-the-mangering.
Reluctance to host a Games is logical. An Olympics is an incredibly arduous, expensive and stressful enterprise requiring years of work and adjustment to work by millions of people, 10 Big Digs taking place all at the same time with an unbreakable deadline. There is no chance of any real economic reward and every chance of big losses. As Josh and most Bostonians are sharp enough to figure out that the only payoff from a Games is fun and a very special kind of fun, the pleasure taken from an enormous cooperative effort to please others.
And there's your deal-breaker right there. "Cooperation" is just not present in the Boston, Massachusetts word cloud and "fun" appears sporadically at best. The Athens of America just doesn't have what it takes to put on an event successfully hosted by Athens, Greece.
Let's put social pyschology for a paragraph or two and address the mundane nuts and bolts problem that makes a Boston Olympics a far greater challenge than most host cities face. Where would we put it?
There are many sports facilities in Boston, but a Games requires at least three we do not have, an Olympic Stadium of 80,000 seats or so, a swimming and diving venue with thousands of seats, and a velodrome for those weird indoor cycling events. This is the reason past host cities have been sprawling metropolises. They had the land. Even London had the relatively undeveloped South Bank of the Thames.
Land is hard to come by in Greater Boston and harder still in Boston proper. But let's assume we can find the space. Using it for the completely frivolous purpose of an Olympics would require putting commercial real estate development of said space on hold. It would require the neighbors of said space to put up with severe dislocations of their lives and/or livelihoods -- just to make other people happy for three weeks at a future date.
Let's ask Bob Kraft what the chances are for that. The Patriots are located in Foxboro because for over 50 years, Boston, or more accurately zealous interest groups within the electorate, has ferociously resisted any proposal to build a football stadium within the city limits. An Olympic stadium is obsolete the day they douse the torch. I'm not optimistic civic pride would trump both money and our collective hatred of change.
Human flaws are merely human virtues gone askew. Flinty New England independence, canniness and reverence for tradition are fine things, until they become the NIMBY and "where's mine" attitude that permeates all too much of life around here. The Beacon Hill Historical Commission won't let sidewalks comply with the Americans for Disabilities Act? Historic preservation is valuable no doubt, but common decency and a sense of shame are more so.
Any city which decides not to bid for an Olympic Games is doing the sensible thing. And if the reaction to the idea of a Boston Games was "sorry, but it's just not for us" I wouldn't be so sorely tempted to volunteer my services to the poor (rich really) dreamers who are trying to put together a bid. But the jubilant "won't-do" attitude expressed by opponents of a Games bothers me much more than I expected. I've lived here for 40 years and I love it. It hurts to see someone or something you love take pride in their very worst characteristic.
When it comes to the Olympics, Boston will put its worst foot forward. It'll be what it all too often is, a world class city with a bush league state of mind.
Frank Jobe, 1925-2014
Frank Jobe, the physician who created ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction a/k/a Tommy John surgery, died this week. In the minds of man and in history, his permanent resting place should be Cooperstown, New York. How sad to say it probably won't be.
The world of baseball remains little despite the fact tens of millions of people live in it, and nowhere is that crabbed provincialism more evident than in the Hall of Fame. Its selection process reflects the blinkered worldview of a tribe that worships its history without the inconvenience of ever having a clue what history actually is.
This is not about the performance-enhancing drugs foolishness. That's a different Hall of Fame problem. This is about the sport's flawed definition of who qualifies as a contributor to baseball's story of what is was, is and will become.
There's an argument to be made that after Marvin Miller, who's also not in the Hall and won't ever get in, Frank Jobe was the most influential figure in baseball in the second half of the 20th century. He and John, his first brave patient, pioneered a surgical procedure that has altered the nature of pitching forever by saving the careers of more pitchers than I have the willingness to cite here. What was a miracle when performed on John has now become almost as routine a baseball occasion as spring training tedium, and baseball is infinitely better for it.
Sports medicine as a medical science is one of the most important developments in all sports since 1970 or so, and Jobe is a symbol of that reality. A sport which understood its history would give him its highest historic honor with grateful glee. It'd already have done so, when Jobe was still around to cherish it.
Baseball doesn't understand its history. Baseball World will spend the next six years arguing if Derek Jeter should be unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame (short answer, who cares? It's not like he's not getting in) and never give a thought to inducting Jobe. The new and utterly unimproved Veterans Committee, which would actually have to do it, will continue its general rejection of the idea anyone but players and maybe some managers ever had anything to do with the sport. Next to a group of old ballplayers, a group of senior oil industry executives are the souls of gracious charity towards all and malice towards none.
I can think of no better way to describe the pompous arrogance which has become the Hall of Fame's stock in trade than this: Frank Jobe will probably never get in, and Bud Selig is next door to a lock;.
Farewell to the Land Without Enough Snow and Ice
The 2014 Olympic Winter Games may not have done as much to advance his geopolitical agenda as Vladimir Putin hoped, but they suited my book. The Winter Games did all I ever ask of them -- they made February seem like it was going faster.
There was an added bonus this year. The Games were sort of like the weekly PGA Tour tournament broadcast, in that it allowed me to ignore the blasted landscape outside and look at pictures of a place where it was sunny and warm. I have to believe that the Games spectators at Sochi who were walking around wearing shorts reached record heights of smugness, and I don't blame them. They were witnesses to a unique moment in Russian history, the first time ever in the thousand years of existence that things got screwed up because it was too nice out. Back in Paris, underneath Napoleon's Tomb you could the ghostly wail, "Sure, to them it happens!"
Maybe that's why NBC's ratings were up this year compared to the 2010 Games in Vancouver, although come to think of it, it was nice out there, too. More likely, the horrific weather which keeps rabbit punching the eastern and midwestern U.S. forced ratings up by forcing folks indoors. There was one week, why just last week, where I spent most of my waking hours in slippers, just putting boots on when it was time to clear more snow. In between, I watched the Olympics.
The appeal of the Winter Games is far simpler to grasp than that of the Summer Games, whose two main sports, swimming and track and field, attract fewer American spectators than lacrosse at all other times. The Winter Games have the primal appeal of other's people's danger. It's Evel Knievel times one milliion. Every event, with the exceptions of the rigorous discipline of figure skating and the incomprehensible discipline of curling, involves hair-raising perils or, in the Nordic sports, more aerobic ability than God meant human beings to possess. Who can turn away from the sight of cheerful attractive young people risking life and limb in something like freestyle slopestyle, which makes the Daytona 500 look like lawn bowling in the daredevil department?
In a terrible comment on my own sports addiction, I've even developed a fondness for curling, and have hopes that by the 2026 Winter Games I'll have a hazy grasp of what's happening on that weird ice lane and bullseye, I happily adjusted to the evening routine of watching CNBC show me the day's curling in the hour right before suppertime. If ever a sport suggested, how about a cocktail?, it's curling.
Alas, that's all gone now. Come Monday, CNBC will fill the curling hour with hyperactive guys and gals in suits shouting out conflicting but equally disastrous investment advice. And we'll be left to face March, New England's longest month by far, with only college basketball as a crutch. Oh, I still like the NCAA tournament, but February is usually my college hoop study month, and I was too busy over at the luge.
Couldn't the NHL just drop the rest of its regular season and skip right to the playoffs the week after next?
People Without Souls on Ice
If, as they have threatened, National Hockey League owners refuse to allow their players to participate in future Olympic Winter Games, there can be only one possible reaction to such unsporting and unpatriotic behavior.
The governments of the United States and Canada should detain the misguided miscreants, strip them of their citizenships, and deport them -- to Russia.
Vladimir Putin know what to do with rich people who get in the way of winter sports pleasure.
Oh, Yeah, the Game, Vol. 2
Preface: Sunday I will have my revenge on Roger Goodell. He can put the Super Bowl anywhere he wants. I'm going to Florida to watch it anyway, damn it!
A family celebration is actually why I'll be down there this weekend, a celebration whose pleasant requirements will keep me offline until Tuesday, when even the NFL Network will be sick of rehashing the game. But it's a poor pundit, even a former pundit, who won't make some effort at picking the Super Bowl.
Picking this one requires no effort at all. I did it almost a decade ago -- in principle, anyhow.
In January, 2005, I was in the media room of the Indianapolis Colts' practice facility ending a week of covering the Colts as they prepared for a playoff game against the Patriots. My colleague and pal Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star and I were idly discussing the NFL and the game when suddenly he asked me quite seriously who I thought would win.
"I'm sure there will be an NFL playoff game at some point," I answered, "where a team with a great offense beats a team with a great defense. I just don't expect to live long enough to see it."
I'm still here, and I still don't. Seattle Seahawks will be your new NFL champions on Sunday night.
New Boss of New Jersey, Boss
My roommate for my freshman year at college had a theory. It was Steve's belief that there was a foolproof means of obtaining international celebrity. Just go mute. Refuse to say another word and stick to it, he argued, and you'll be the most famous person on earth within six weeks or less.
Nearly 50 years later, Marshawn Lynch has gone a long way towards validation of my roommate's hypothesis. The Seattle Seahawks running back has become the most famous/notorious person at the Super Bowl not by going mute, but simply by not saying much. Had he really clammed up, Lynch might already have been voted MVP.
Lynch did not go Trappist for sordid financial reasons. He didn't want to draw the heavy fines the NFL lays on players and coaches for failure to cooperate in the sacred process of Super Bowl hype. So he has attended the mandatory sessions for about five minutes of the scheduled hour, and spoke a few sentences about how weird he finds the whole thing and how he doesn't really want to speak to the media.
Lynch also, at least to my eye, appeared stoned as a loon in his brief interview with Hall of Famer and professional clown Deion Sanders at Media Day. I doubt he was, but if so, congratulations, Marshawn! First sensible idea about Media Day anyone's ever had.
Lynch knew the audience he didn't want to address. Nothing gets the sports media more interested in someone than if said someone shuns them. Before Media Day ended, Lynch, not motormouth teammate Richard Sherman, was the symbol of All That's Wrong With American Jockdom.
Being that symbol has been a very good deal for most of the half-century I've followed sports in this country. From Muhammad Ali to Ray Lewis, the Bad Guy has been a most well-paid role. Lynch is much better known outside the football world than he was last week. If he was exploiting the media for profit, good for him. My former peers are supposed to be professional skeptics. Getting played is their bad, not his.
Of course, the babble is that Lynch's quasi-silence was one of those dread Super Bowl "distractions." So was Sherman saying too much, which appears to create a logical contradiction, but logic and the Super Bowl parted ways around the time of the first Up With People halftime show.
The Seahawks don't seem distracted. They appear to be getting a hoot out of Lynch's position. Nothing much seems to bother Seattle. It's one reason I fancy their chances against a team led by the gifted Fusspot di Tutti Fusspots Peyton Manning.
I prefer a simpler explanation than manipulation for Lynch's bashful pose. He's not saying much because he doesn't want to. His motives for that reluctance are irrelevant. I'd like to think it's because he finds the usual "insert banal quote" here structure of the average sports story as rigid and obsolete as the sonnet, but I doubt it. Point is, he's entitled to his motives and his taciturnity. Lynch is being himself. That's what sports journalists should hope for, not resent.
His few words are an inconvenience for the sports journalists engaged in hype creation, but that's all they are, and a minor one at that. What good, after all, is testimony/quotes uttered under duress?
Today was the last mandatory media session. All the players and coaches are in a cone of silence until the game's over Sunday night. I hope with all my heart Lynch spends his free time until kickoff calling his friends and relatives long-distance. And I hope even harder that if Seattle does win, and Lynch is voted MVP,. he holds the Lombardi Trophy aloft and spills his guts to an audience of millions.
I want to hear Marshawn Lynch exult, "How nice for us."
And That's Why He's An All-American
ESPN hastened to inform me yesterday afternoon that the NFL had fined Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman the peculiar sum of $7,875 for taunting 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree in the NFC Championship Game. I hastened to change the channel.
A commercial flashed on the screen, one of those film noirish ads for that headphone brand that feature professional athletes. The athlete in this one, of course, was Sherman. In a dark, stylized rendition of a locker room he was conducting a press conference -- a press conference that was a close facsimile of the actual one Sherman gave in Seattle last Tuesday, except he had slightly better lines. Practice makes perfect.
When a questioner uses the word "thug" Sherman does not respond. He gives a sharp but sly glance, puts on the headphones and we fade to a big picture of the product and its slogan of only hearing what you want to hear.
I wouldn't guess what Sherman got paid for that ad. I'd be willing to bet $7,875, however, that it was a lot more than $7,875. Celebrity, not bitcoins, is this country's real alternative currency, and Sherman knew how to leverage notoriety for both fun and profit, especially fun. It had to be fun to make a commercial validating Sherman's not-too-hidden belief that the critics of his football rage rant last Sunday are clueless about the sport and life in these United States in general.
We will also note that a corporation making a consumer good felt a good way to sell it was to give Sherman's beliefs an approving pat on the back. For every outraged middle-aged white sportswriter, there may be 10 much younger people of all ethnic and racial backgrounds who might be convinced headphones are a fine means of projecting attitude and shutting out the world that doesn't understand them.
As a further sign of genius, both Sherman and the unknown to me ad agency that should get a big bonus hastened to strike when the bullshit controversy iron was at its hottest. Cable news nonsense nonnews has a very short shelf life. Even now, Justin Bieber is driving the Sherman "issue" off the air with tornadic power. By Monday, only Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless will still be arguing about it.
So if Sherman thinks he's smarter than most people, he may be right. I suppose many folks will be horrified or at least saddened that he was able to cash in on what was (or was it?) a spectacular loss of self-control. Myself, as an American citizen I found that commercial oddly reassuring.
The Chinese may make more stuff than we do. The food's better in Italy and France. Pick a country and its health care system works better for more people than ours. But no other land on earth can or ever will top the U.S. in self-promotion. It is our true national gift.