Every fan has his or her own rules for why they do or don't root for certain athletes. Sometimes those rules are as simple as "he plays for the team in the town where I grew up." Sometimes they're less simple — as a kid, Joe Montana was my favorite NFL quarterback because he won Super Bowls, but also because we wore the same jersey number (16, though I was playing soccer) and his name was attached to the greatest football video game of my generation. (You can have your Maddens and your Tecmo Bowls. I'll take my Sports Talk any day.) This is the logic of a 10-year-old boy, and thankfully it improves a little — though only a little — over time.
Take this weekend's competitors at the golf season's last major, the PGA Championship, for example. If you're not a big fan of the sport, you might see an unbroken line of monochromatic stiffs. And you wouldn't exactly be wrong. Yeah, OK, it's an international field. And yeah, OK, Tiger Woods. But mostly: relatively well-off white guys from two-parent homes who, if they have a colorful personality, keep it fairly well-hidden on and off the course. Some sports almost demand of their players an easily tapped reservoir of childhood misery and pain in order to summon up enough anger and intensity to play. Golf is not one of them. It favors patience, and, above all, privilege.
While the rest of the baseball world is talking about the Miami doctor who's agreed to talk, indulge me for a moment as I try to interest you in a home run that was hit three weeks ago. It was May 19. The Tigers versus the Rangers in Arlington, Texas. Top of the fifth. Miguel Cabrera at the plate.
Cabrera had already hit one homer, a mammoth, three-run, 453-foot opposite-fielder off starter Derek Holland in the third inning. In the eighth he would hit another for his third of the game. But it's that home run sandwiched in the middle that's of interest here.
Holland had run the count full. And to get baseball's best hitter out, he threw a 94 mph fastball on the lower, inner half of the plate. It didn't go well.
A few years ago Brian Britt realized he had to make a change. College football season was approaching, and he needed a new way to find out who was best equipped to lead his team. The pace of the game was speeding up, and the evidence was right in front of him. When Britt had first come to the University of Oklahoma, Mike Leach, who had helped popularize the fast-moving “Air Raid” attack, was offensive coordinator. Now Leach was winning at conference rival Texas Tech, legions of programs had adopted similarly swift styles, and the pressure was on for Britt to find a way to adjust.
College football fans in the past decade have been witness to an explosion in the number of teams who play fast. Hurry-up, Air Raid, zone read, spread — whatever name an offensive scheme answers to, the end result is the same: a headache for the opposition, who often can't get off the field quick enough to substitute. But just as the players on the field and coaches on the sideline have been forced to contend with the changing speed of the game, so, too, have the play callers in the stands. Because Britt, you see, isn't a defensive coordinator: He's the director of the Pride of Oklahoma, the Sooners' marching band.
It first occurred to me that Britt's job may have gotten more difficult over the past 10 years while watching the annual intrastate rivalry game with the Oklahoma State Cowboys that's lovingly referred to as “Bedlam.” The game was the 107th of its kind. It was also the first to go to overtime. And in the waning moments of regulation, as the Sooners hurried toward a game-tying touchdown, I first noticed something that years of watching college football had trained me to ignore: the band.
Last Thursday, in the waning moments of the Seattle Sounders' playoff victory over Real Salt Lake, left back Marc Burch was caught on camera calling an opposing Real player a "f----t." (Fair warning: Links to YouTube clips in this piece might not be suitable for your workplace.) The follow-up from Burch was immediate: a seemingly heartfelt letter of apology. The response from MLS commissioner Don Garber was just as swift: an undisclosed fine, an order that Burch attend sensitivity training, and a three-game suspension that effectively ended his season.
When a league fines or suspends a player for saying something it considers inappropriate, it's not just levying a penalty, it's also making a wager. A bet that a certain dollar amount or number of games will convince its fans and other interested parties that it takes the slur seriously.
By that logic, all four of America's largest leagues — the NFL, the NBA, MLB, and the NHL — have long gambled on the idea that their fans aren't overly concerned about players using homophobic language. The only professional league that seems to take seriously the risk that gay slurs will alienate its biggest supporters is also the country's youngest: Major League Soccer.
This summer, after he was fired by the Orlando Magic, Stan Van Gundy, a man who’d spent the previous three decades keeping a basketball coach’s long hours, suddenly found himself with a lot of time on his hands.
After his Orlando exit, Van Gundy and his wife didn't want to leave Florida, where three of their kids were still in school and the fourth and oldest had just transferred to go to college. But coaching for the Miami Heat, which he'd left in 2007 2005, or the Magic was obviously out of the question.
Having the time to shuttle his kids to and from baseball games and horseback riding lessons was nice. But he still wasn't filling his days. Until, that is, he found the Seminole County public school system.