Things Aren’t Always What They Appear

News is anything that makes a reader say, `Gee Whiz’! “
– Arthur MacEwen, American editor

You may have heard or read about the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) news story on the youth soccer league in Midlake, Ontario, Canada which has decided that they want to improve the experience of the children playing on its teams.  In order to achieve this goal, the league’s administrators have decided to eliminate what they consider to be one of the more damaging aspects of sports; that being competition.
youthsoccersmall
Helen Dabney-Coyle of Midlake’s Soccer Association explained the objective this way, “This year to address some of the negative effects of competition, we’ve actually removed the ball.  And the kids are loving it.
(I added the emphasis)

According to the story, Helen went on to say, “By removing the ball, it’s absolutely impossible to say ‘this team won’ and ‘this team lost’ or ‘this child is better at soccer than that child.  We want our children to grow up learning that sport is not about competition, rather it’s about using your imagination.  If you imagine you’re good at soccer, then, you are.

Here in the U.S., several major media outlets including The Washington Times and USA Today picked up the ball-less soccer story, running it in their print and on-line editions.

There’s only one small fly in this particular ointment.  Nothing about the story is true.  It was originally broadcast on the CBC’s “This Is That ” program which, by the way, happens to be entirely satirical in nature.

Sadly, I don’t find it surprising that so many people were hoodwinked into believing that this story was true.  After all we do live in a culture which, far too often, is guided by ill-advised, but politically correct philosophies.

As an example, some school systems have eliminated the use of the letter grade “F” because it might serve to label particular students as not performing up to minimal standards.  No matter that those students are in fact not performing up to minimal standards!   We just wouldn’t want their egos damaged by their having to face the truth regarding their own lack of effort nor to hold them responsible for making an attempt to improve their study habits.

In the world of youth sports, political correctness is responsible for the now common-place practice of awarding every child on every team a trophy at the end of each season regardless of how they or their team performed.  Apparently, it’s now considered bad form to only recognize the hard work and achievement of those teams and individuals who actually put in the effort to excel.

From my perspective, those individuals who are wearing their rose-colored, politically correct glasses fail to understand the simple and age old truth that when events are structured so that everyone wins, in actual fact, everyone ends up losing.

The winners soon learn that their extra effort gained them nothing at all.  While the losers learn that little or no effort is required to achieve the same level of reward and recognition as those who did put in the extra effort required to achieve.

Hear that loud slamming sound?  That’s everyone being forced to the lowest common denominator at exactly the same time.

But enough about programming subsequent generations into being under achievers who expect to be rewarded for their (lack of) effort.

The really sad thing about this story is that main stream media in the U.S. picked it up and reported it as being factual and newsworthy.
Newsroom
There was a time when news stories weren’t published unless the facts contained within them could be thoroughly substantiated by at least two reliable and independent sources.  In those days, journalists actually worked very hard to vet, or to confirm, the truth of their stories before they were reported as being factual.  Apparently those heady days of journalistic accuracy and excellence are going, if they are not already gone, the same way as the “F” letter grade and the awarding of trophies only to actual winners.

Even if The Washington Times and USA Today had just taken the time to have an intern Google “Midlake, Ontario“, they would have learned that the place simply doesn’t exist.  Good job Main Stream Media.  I’d give you an “F” on this one if that grade still existed.

Edward R. Murrow most certainly is turning somersaults in his grave.

OM

Photo credit: SportsGrid.com
Photo credit: newspaperalum.com

Reality Denied Comes Back to Haunt

Remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.
–  George Costanza

Today’s sports headlines have led me to consider Alex Rodriguez as my latest candidate to be the poster child for the practice of Situational Ethics.
ARod
Now in case you don’t know who Alex Rodriguez is, he’s been the New York Yankees starting third baseman since 2004.  The Yankees thought enough of his talents at playing the hot corner to sign him to a contract in 2007 which will pay him a total of $275 million for his services through 2017.

Alex, aka ARod, is also a baseball player who for years vehemently denied using PEDs (performance enhancing drugs) only to recant and confess in 2009 that, in fact, he’d been lying about his drug use and had “experimented” with PEDs back in 2001 through 2003, but only because he was under such tremendous pressure to perform.  Subsequent to his contrite mea culpa, the presumption was that Alex had clearly seen the error of his chemically augmented ways and that he has been performing as an “unenhanced ” athlete since that time.

At least that’s what we were supposed to have believed.

Fast forward to Monday, August 5, 2013.   Based on an extensive investigation and what can only be assumed to be overwhelming evidence, Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced that Alex Rodriguez was being suspended from baseball through the end of the 2014 season; a total of 211 games.  His offense?  The continued use of PEDs and his attempts to mislead representatives of major league baseball who were conducting the investigation.  As a footnote, twelve other current MLB players were suspended for inappropriate drug use at the same time.

cheatersEnough about Alex.   What really concerns me is our society’s continued and growing acceptance of what I refer to as Situational Ethics.  I think that it’s safe to list Rodriguez as a practitioner of this particular philosophy.

I subscribe to the simplistic belief that ethics can be defined as doing what is right, even when no one is looking.  I believe that rules are necessary and that in most cases they are based on well-established behavioral norms which society has put into place as a means to clearly define the difference between behaviors which are acceptable (right ) as compared to those which are unacceptable (wrong).

On the other hand, Situational Ethics assumes that the situation in which a person finds himself, rather than the behavior itself, is the ultimate determining factor as to whether or not a particular behavior is ethical.

I’ve always believed that cheating in any form and in any situation or context is wrong; whether it’s done while taking a test, playing a game, or in any other activity where one can manipulate the rules or circumstances to improve one’s advantage.

Using the behavior of cheating as an example, Situational Ethics, enables one to engage in the following type of rationalization:

In general, cheating is an inappropriate behavior, unless      (fill in the blank with a situation
or circumstance in which you believe the desired outcome justifies engaging in the behavior)     .

It’s interesting to note that this line of thinking is often reinforced with the addition of a quick,  “Besides!  Everybody does it! 

Alex Rodriguez, my designated poster child, has already given us a hint as to what verbiage he’s used to fill in his personal blank – the tremendous pressure he felt to perform.

I suspect that there may well have been at least 275 million other enticements which were vying for room in his blank space as well.

OM

Thanks to the writer Philip K. Dick for the title of today’s blog.
Photo credit: Keith Allison Foter CC BY-SA
Photo credit: tomvanwyhe / Foter / CC BY

Something’s Rotten in the State of Football

I live in what is locally known as SEC country.  No, I’m not referring to the Securities and Exchange Commission.  In these parts, SEC is synonymous with the Southeastern Conference.  And as any true sports fan can tell you, the SEC means college football.
Alabama-Stadium
Arguably, in recent years the SEC has been the most dominant NCAA college football conference in the country.  An SEC team has won the NCAA football championship every year since 2006 and the odds on preseason favorite to win the 2013 title for the third consecutive year is the Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama.

I would consider saying “Roll Tide! ” at this point, but my personal college sports allegiances actually reside within the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Perennially, the college footballTop Ten lists, such as the AP and Coaches polls, are dominated by SEC teams.  At the moment, five SEC teams are listed in a 2013 preseason composite listing of the top 10 college football teams.

Regrettably, there’s another less well known listing which is filled with the names of athletes who play football for SEC schools; presumably institutions of higher learning.  That would be a listing of those individuals who have been arrested on charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.
handcuffs
At the moment, the Universities of Alabama and Florida (both SEC schools) lead the nation with arrests of athletes who play football for their school’s teams.  Both Alabama and Florida have had five current players arrested during the period January through June 2013.  The University of Kentucky comes in a close second with four players running afoul of the law during the same period.  The University of Georgia and Texas A&M have each placed three players in the pokie so far this year.  I won’t belabor the point by listing those SEC schools which have had only one or two players charged.

In total, between January and June 2013, there have been 25 Southeastern Conference football players arrested on a variety of charges.

Now before you think I’m picking on the SEC, this is a problem which is plaguing college football regardless of the conference in which teams play.  So far this year, there have been a total of 76 arrests made involving college football players across the country.  In 2012, 264 college football players were arrested; in 2011 there were 226 players arrested, with 88 such arrests being made in 2010.

Equally alarming are the numbers of college basketball players being arrested each year.  Year to date in 2013, 38 college hoops players have been taken into custody for one thing or another.  In 2012, the number charged was 74.

Given the fact that the number of players on a college basketball team is a mere fraction of those found on a football roster, the arrest percentage found among college basketball players may actually dwarf that of their football playing classmates.  I just don’t have the time nor the inclination to do the necessary analysis.

So where am I going with all of these arrest statistics?  No where in particular, other than wondering aloud if this trend is the direct result of the “win at all costs” attitude which predominates these days in college sports; particularly within the big conferences such as the SEC, the Big Ten, and the PAC 12.

After all when coaches, who have posted winning records for multiple seasons and are 9-2 during the current season, feel that they’re in jeopardy of losing their jobs – it just seems to me that there’s something badly out of balance.  Is it any wonder that they recruit and play anyone, regardless of past or present behavioral issues, who they believe can help their team win?

Here’s to simpler times.

Rickety Rack, Rickety Rack – Go State!

OM

Arrest statistics available at: arrestnation.com
Photo credit: sunsurfr Foter CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: The.Comedian / Foter / CC BY-NC

 

 

Teeing `em Up at Muirfield

“It was named by drunken Scots after listening to barking dogs.  Golf is played by twenty
million mature American men whose wives think they are out there having fun”
– Jim Bishop, syndicated column, 1970

Having managed to make it through another week, I settled into the recliner on Friday afternoon to watch the ESPN replay of the second round of the British Open golf tournament which is being played at Muirfield overlooking the Firth of Forth.
gothicgolf
I’ve always enjoyed watching the British Open when it’s played north of Hadrian’s Wall in the land otherwise known as Scotland.  In addition to being the place where the game was first played, I’m able to trace my own lineage back to Sutherland and Caithness in the far northern highlands of Scotland and I find it refreshing to take in scenes of the homeland from time to time.  I also occasionally have an urge to don a kilt and run through the neighborhood swinging a sword longer than I am tall, but generally I’m able to control that one.

But back on the subject of golf, there are those who would criticize me for referring to the tournament as “the British Open.”  Golf purists tend to speak of the event in reverential tones as simply “The Open.”  This appears to be based on the somewhat pretentious assumption that there are no other golf tournaments which equal the majesty, legacy, and heritage of the British Open; which of course, in my humble opinion, is simply not the case.

For anyone who follows golf or cults of sport celebrity in general, it’ll come as no surprise that many, if not most, sports media golf pundits are predicting that Tiger Woods will be the victor come Sunday evening.  Notching another win in a major tournament would move Tiger one step closer to equalling Jack Nicklaus’ astounding record of 18 major tournament championships.  For the uninitiated, the current “majors” are limited to the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship.  But of course the golf world’s talking heads have been making similar and equally inaccurate prognostications pertaining to Woods’ next win in a major for the past five years or so.  Sort of reminds me of that old story about the boy who cried wolf, or was it that he cried tiger?
claret-jug-(1)
Frankly, I wouldn’t lose any sleep if Tiger were to never win another major championship.  In this year’s British Open, I’d much prefer to see a veteran player of the likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, or just an unheralded journeyman from the field pick up the Claret Jug on Sunday afternoon.  We’ll just have to wait to see how it turns out.

In the meantime, I’ll have to reach deep in order to find the patience to endure the apparent compulsion which every ESPN commentator has to make lame jokes about the Firth of Forth, not to mention to periodically demonstrate their astounding lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the game of golf.

“Excessive golfing dwarfs the intellect.  And is this to be wondered at when we
consider that 
the more fatuously vacant the mind is, the better the play.”
– Sir Walter Simpson, The Art of Golf, 1887 

Fore!

OM

Photo credit: usgtf.com
Photo credit: ayrshiregolf.blogspot.com

Grasping for One’s 15 Minutes

In 1968, the pop artist Andy Warhol uttered his famous words, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

Frankly, that’s not an achievement that I’ve ever been interested in pursuing, but it’s very clear that the woods are full of those who are consumed by their personal vision of claiming even a momentary level of notoriety.

I was watching Stage 8 of the Tour de France earlier today.  This was the first mountain stage of the race and that got me to thinking how long will it be before I would catch a glimpse of “The Devil“?
Devil
If you haven’t been a regular viewer of past Tour’s de France, you might be asking yourself, “Who the devil is the Tour de France Devil“?

Well, I am a regular Tour watcher and I’ll be happy to bring you up to speed on this topic.  Since 1993, Dieter “Didi ” Senft of ReichenwaldeGermany has been attending the Tour de France dressed in a red devil suit and carrying a trident.  He’s an expert at postioning himself along the Tour’s route each day so as to optimize his opportunities off being picked up by the mobile television cameras capturing images of the riders.  He’s typically seen during the mountain stages of the race when the slower speeds of the riders in the peleton ensure him of maximum on-camera time.  A few seconds here – a few seconds there, pretty soon you’ve tallied up your personal15 minutes.

Unfortunately in 2012, poor health kept Didi away from the Tour for the first time since 1993 and so far this year, I haven’t had any Devil sightings.  But there’s still two weeks to go, so I remain cautiously optimistic.

I have absolutely no idea why this gentleman feels compelled to dress up like the devil for three weeks each July. Likewise, I have no idea how he manages to get so much time off from whatever his normal occupation may be to attend the Tour with such regularity, not to mention longevity.  But I do find him to be a leading candidate for becoming the poster child for Warhol’s prediction that fame will ultimately become an entitlement for all who desire it; even if it happens to be fleeting.

Didi is certainly not the only example of sport’s fans engaged in the pursuit of drawing attention to themselves at athletic competitions.

As a sports photographer, I’ve had many opportunities to capture images of other latter-day Didi’s pressing the bounds of fashion and decorum to the breaking point.  I often wonder if these folks truly believe that their efforts inspire higher levels of performance from the athletes and teams that they are supporting or if they would they be honest enough to admit that their real motivation is simply to draw attention to themselves.

BuzzCaptAmericaHokieTony

Here’s to those valiant sports fanatics who continue to confuse sporting events with the celebration of Halloween.  May their efforts at unbridled and unique self-expression continue unabated; for both events would be less enjoyable without them!

OM

Photo credit: TchmilFan Foter CC BY-NC-SA

Remembering a Lesson in Humility

PeletonFor many years on July evenings after having completed another ordinary workday, I’ve been glued to my television watching the daily replays of that day’s leg of the Tour de France.

Momentarily putting aside all questions related to the use of performance enhancing chemicals, banned or otherwise, the Tour is a test of human endurance unlike any other.  I’ve always admired marathon runners, but imagine running a marathon, getting up the next day, going out running another one, and then repeating this regime for three consecutive weeks with only two or three days off to rest and recover.

Give me a second!  I’ve got to catch my breath.

Back in the 80’s, I used to be an avid recreational cyclist; black spandex and all.  Some friends of mine who happened to catch glimpses of me as I streaked through town, still haven’t recovered.  I got in to cycling after a chronic hip injury made it difficult for me to continue jogging for exercise.

At the time, we were living in the mountains of western North Carolina.  One of my favorite routes to ride was a 20 or so mile loop which took me on a winding road which snaked up a small mountain topped with a precipitous cliff known locally as Jump Off Rock.
Jump-off-rock
Legend has it that Jump Off Rock was so named in remembrance of the young Cherokee Indian maiden who leapt to her demise over the cliff upon learning that her beloved had been killed in battle.

It’s interesting to note that in my travels to other states, I’ve come across several other so named Jump Off Rocks.  Apparently angst-ridden teenaged Indian maidens hurling themselves over the nearest available cliff reached epidemic proportions in pre-Colonial America.

One afternoon after riding to the top of Jump Off Rock, I sat in the shade resting with my bike laying in the grass at my feet.  I noticed that there was a very elderly gentleman taking in the view of the valley from the overlook above the cliff.  He turned slowly and noticing me, he began hobbling with the use of his cane over to where I sat in the grass.  He was 90 years old, if he was a day.  He looked like Methuselah.

After a few moments of closely examining my bike, he began poking at the derailleur on the rear hub with his cane.  With a deep German accent and in broken English the old man excitedly asked, “What’s this?  What’s this? 

Those are the bike’s gears.  Makes it easier to climb hills.”  I replied hoping that the explanation would cause him to stop pummeling my derailleur with his staff.

Huh!  When I was a young man, I rode my bicycle from Heidelberg to Barcelona!  Over the Alps and up the Pyrenees!  One gear!  ONE GEAR! ” he bellowed flailing the air wildly with his cane.

Hoping that my leaving might allow the elderly German to calm himself and thus avoid a coronary, I hopped on my bike and began the glide down the mountain troubled by having just been completely humbled by a 90+ year old Bavarian.
tdf
Leading up to this year’s Tour, NBC Sports aired a documentary on the history of the Tour de France.  As old black and white photographs from the inaugural 1903 race scrolled across the screen, the narrator intoned that the bikes used in that era had, you guessed it, only one gear!

Hah! I  thought  to myself.  I could still have taken that guy in a 50 yard dash!

Auf Wiedersehen!

OM

Photo credit: hans905 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA
Photo credit: D.Clow – Maryland Foter.com CC BY-NC-ND
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Sometimes You Just Can’t Follow Good Advice

If you follow the sport of professional baseball, you’re probably aware of the ancient and on-going controversies surrounding umpires; those stalwarts who serve as the game’s chief arbiters.  Many baseball enthusiasts believe that it’s time to clean house and bring in a new generation of umpires, replacing those who have been around too long and are perhaps growing somewhat complacent in their jobs.

As I was reading an article outlining the latest proposal on this subject, I was reminded of one particular umpire who I will never forget.
Little-League
It was the summer of 1961 and as I’ve documented in previous posts, I was totally focused on playing Little League baseball.  It was my raison d’etre.  I was the starting third baseman on the team which was sponsored by Franklin’s Drug store and we were in the middle of a rigorous eight game schedule.  Truth be told, I was a so-so third baseman.  What I lacked in fielding ability was more than eclipsed by my complete lack of speed when running the bases.

Based on the level of raw athleticism which I brought to the game, you may find yourself wondering why I was on my team’s starting line-up in the first place.  The answer is provided in an earlier post entitled, “Remembering the (little) Boys of Summer” which can be found in my March 2013 archive.  But enough with the shameless self-promotion.

As anyone who has ever coached, played, or witnessed a Little League baseball game knows, one of the most difficult challenges facing every team is finding pitchers who can consistently throw pitches which end up anywhere close to the strike zone, let alone the general vicinity of home plate.  The arm strength and pitching capability of the typical 8- to 9-year old boy just doesn’t allow for many would-be hurlers to rise to the occasion.  As such, I was one of many on the team who were frequently called on to fill the role of relief pitcher.

In general, the arm motion used in throwing a baseball can be divided into three distinct categories.  There is the “over-the-top” delivery in which the throwing arm extends vertically over the shoulder as the ball is delivered.  Then there’s the “sidearm” delivery in which the throwing arm sweeps in a horizontal motion parallel to the ground.  My natural throwing motion was, and still is, what’s referred to as a “3/4 delivery “; meaning that the path that my arm followed was somewhere between that of the other two deliveries.

I recall one game late in the season when I was called on to relieve our starting pitcher.  He was on a pace to consecutively walk the entire line-up of the opposing team.  The parents and other fans seated in the bleachers were growing restless having to watch the kid out on the left field scoreboard change the numbers as run after run was walked in.

I felt as if I was entering a maelstrom as I reluctantly walked to the mound from the otherwise friendly confines of third base.  After allowing me time to toss a couple of warm-up pitches, play resumed.

As I’ve mentioned, the spectators seated in the bleachers had already been worked up into a state of impatient agitation.  By the time I’d thrown my second or third pitch, I began to be heckled from the stands.  Yes, the Boo-Birds show up at Little League games too.  After every pitch, a loud and somewhat abrasive voice could be heard shouting, “Throw it overhand!  Overhand!

Obviously there was an aficionado of the “over the top ” school of pitching in attendance.  I’d deliver a “3/4 ” pitch and the voice, like thunder, would come rolling out of the bleachers and across the diamond, “Throw it overhand!
Umpire
After about ten or so pitches, the plate umpire threw his hands into the air and barked, “Time out! ”  Pulling his face mask off, he walked slowly out to the mound.

When he reached me, he said, “Son, you’re doing just fine.  You just do what comes natural.  You don’t have to pay attention to whoever that is that’s yelling at you.

I remember shuffling my feet and twirling the ball in my hand as I considered his genuine and heartfelt advice.  “Thank you sir, but yes I do.  That’s my mother.

Finding himself with nothing further to offer, he mumbled, “Oh,” slowly spun on his heels and shouted “Play ball! ” as he returned to home.

As the saying goes, “You gotta know when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em 

OM

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It Ain’t Easy Being El Niño

Sergio
Sergio Garcia, the professional golfer, is all over the news lately.  It seems that Sergio has a long standing dislike for Tiger Woods which came to a head during the recent Tournament Players Championship played at the TPC at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

Sergio was paired with Tiger during the third round of the tournament.  As Sergio was hitting an approach shot, Tiger’s fans started applauding for something that Woods had done while waiting to hit his shot.

Now you have to understand that 90% of the folks following Tiger know next to nothing about golf.  Our culture’s cult of celebrity has driven them out there so that they can tell friends, family, and associates that they once actually stood near Tiger.  This cabal will clap their hands and scream “Get in the hole! ” at the slightest provocation – for anything from Tiger stooping to pick up a pine cone to him simply scratching an itch.

In any event, the noise from Tiger’s gallery of fans apparently distracted Sergio, causing him to feel that Tiger had not done all in his power to keep his fans quiet.  Old grievances were suddenly made raw again.

The following day it became clear that, even though they were tied for the lead, Sergio and Tiger would not be playing together during the final round.  When asked what he thought of not playing with Tiger on Sunday, Sergio commented that it didn’t take a “rocket engineer ” to realize that he and Tiger were not the best of buds.  One is left to ponder if a rocket scientist would have arrived at the same conclusion.
Tiger
Fueled by a collapse of monumental proportions on the final two holes of the tournament, Sergio went from being tied with Tiger for the lead to the status of just another “also ran”.   As a result, the state of Sergio’s antipathy for Tiger apparently rose from simmer to full boil.

Earlier this week at a European Tour award’s dinner, Sergio inserted both of his feet (possibly up to his knees) into his mouth when he suggested that during the upcoming U.S. Open he might invite Tiger to dinner, closing his comments with “We will serve fried chicken.

Sergio is undoubtedly a very talented golfer, but I wonder just how much notoriety he would have gained during his career but for a single shot he hit as a 19 year-old during the 1999 PGA Championship at the Medinah Country Club.
Sergio Leaps
That year during the final round, his tee shot on the 16th hole came to rest against the trunk of a large tree.  Undaunted by his bad lie, the relatively unknown Sergio hit the shot of the tournament by putting his ball on the green, but more memorably by performing a gazelle-like leap into the air as he sprinted up the fairway so that he could follow the flight of his ball.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “one shot does not a tournament make.”  Sergio finished second, by a single stroke, behind one Tiger Woods.

But that was all it took for the media to ordain Sergio as charismatic and the foremost challenger to Tiger at the top of professional golf’s pantheon.

Since that fateful day, reality has trumped all of the media hype and mythology.  At this point in their respective careers, Tiger has posted 78 PGA tournament victories including 14 majors; while Sergio has only managed 8 total wins, none of which are majors.  I don’t think that Tiger senses Sergio breathing down his neck.

It must be difficult for Sergio.  He’s gone from being a darling of the media to now being their whipping boy for becoming the latest celebrity to run afoul of the universal doctrine of political correctness which holds that everyone has the right to never be offended.

Contriteness may well be the order of the day for Sergio.  On second thought, make that the order of the foreseeable future.

The great St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”  Sergio would do well to remember Dizzy’s words.  For despite the media’s misplaced prognostications, he ain’t done it.

Drive for show, putt for dough.

OM

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Photo credit: Jim Epler / Foter.com / CC BY
P
hoto from: Golf.com

In Memory of Gump Worsley

As I’ve probably mentioned many times, I’m a fan of sports.  I’ll watch just about any sport you put in front of me with the possible exceptions of gymnastics, synchronized swimming, and horse racing.  Most recently, I’ve become thoroughly infatuated with the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup playoffs which are currently being broadcast by NBC Sports.
Stanley Cup
I’m not sure if I’ve been drawn into watching these games due to NBC’s creative “Because It’s the Cup” commercials promoting the playoffs or simply due to the fact that the other detritus littering the tube during primetime is simply not worth the time and effort.

If you haven’t noticed, NBC has been broadcasting four Stanley Cup quarterfinal games per night on their NBC Sports Channel and on its sister financial network, CNBC.

Typically, I’ve been picking out one of the early games to watch in full and then recording one of the late games for viewing the next day.  Yes, recording as in VHS.  I don’t expect to move up to TIVO or another DVR until those devices have been replaced with at least two generations of more advanced technology.  I’m not one to rush into following the latest trends.

I saw my first hockey game when I was around 5 years old.  I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, which, as one might imagine, was not what could be called a hot bed of hockey enthusiasm during the 1950’s.  Yet in 1956, the Charlotte Checkers franchise came to town playing in the now defunct Eastern Hockey League; which eventually became the Southern Hockey League.
No helmets
There apparently is something to this genetics thing because my grandfather, who had always been an avid baseball fan, suddenly and inexplicably became a hockey fan.

I remember him telling me about the new team that had come to town to play the “fastest game on ice.”  Eventually he took me down to the old Charlotte Coliseum to watch the Checkers play.  I’ve been a fan, if not a rabid one, of the game ever since.

Yesterday, as I watched one of the Stanley Cup playoff games that I’d recorded earlier, my youngest son sat down to watch with me for a while.  After a few minutes, he commented that he couldn’t understand why some of the players had protective visors mounted to their helmets, while others did not.  Then he went further by asking, “Why don’t they have a face mask that covers their entire face?

He was a bit incredulous when I explained to him that when I was a kid, hockey players didn’t wear any form of protective headgear.  When my son gave me one of those looks which says so clearly, “Yeah ol’ man.  I’m not falling for this one“, I immediately thought of Gump Worsley.  And who wouldn’t have?
OBIT NHL Worsley
Gump Worsley played in the National Hockey League from 1952 until 1974.  He was a goaltender.  To this day Gump is the third winningest (is that a word?) goaltender in NHL history.  He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in1980.

But that’s not why I remember Gump Worsley.  As far as I’m concerned, he’ll forever be remembered as the last NHL goaltender to play his position without wearing a protective mask. When asked why he chose not to wear one, Gump famously replied, “My face is my mask.”  Who can dispute that kind of logic?

In 1961, Gump was in goal for a game against the Chicago Blackhawks.  Playing for the Blackhawks was Bobby Hull, the famous left winger who was known as the The Golden Jet  for his powerful slap shot which had been timed at over 118 miles per hour.

During the game, Hull fired a shot at goal which struck Gump directly in the middle of his forehead.  Worsley dropped like a proverbial rock; immediately rendered unconscious.  Upon waking up later in the hospital, he was asked how he was feeling.  Gump replied, “Good thing the puck hit me flat.”  There’s no argument there.

In last night’s quarterfinal game between the Boston Bruins and the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto defenseman Marc Fraser was hit directly in the face by a shot necessitating another quick trip to the hospital.  Fraser wasn’t wearing a visor on his helmet which would have prevented the injury that he sustained.  I immediately thought about my son’s question, “Why don’t they have a face mask that covers their entire face? ”

Maybe they should.  To my mind, it certainly wouldn’t detract from the speed and excitement of the game.

OM

Photo credit: clydeorama / Foter.com / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: Boston Public Library / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: Oldmaison Foter.com CC BY-SA

Lacrosse: The Fastest Game on Two feet

“Lacrosse: Turning violent personalities to world class athletes”   – unknown

I grew up in the South.  As such, I was not exposed to the game of lacrosse until I was well past my prime in terms of personally participating in contact sports.  By that time, merely giving serious thought to playing the game of lacrosse would have been detrimental to my health and general well being.

I often find myself wishing that had not been the case.  Given even half a chance, I would have eagerly been out there on the field engaged in the non-stop action and controlled mayhem that is the game of lacrosse.

I know of no other sport in which one is allowed to run up and down the field of play while whacking one’s opponent with a stick …… without being immediately penalized for doing so.  To my mind, it just doesn’t get any better than that!

I was first introduced to the game of lacrosse through my work as a sports photographer.  Once I began covering local college and high school games, I immediately became a huge fan of the sport.  It’s the kind of event that Sigmund Freud was thinking about when he said, “Without spectator sports, all societies would be neurotic.”  Or words to that effect.
LacrosseI’m often asked, “What’s your favorite sport to photograph?”  I believe that most people assume that my reply will be, “Football.”  Football is a close second, but without a doubt, lacrosse is my favorite.  That is, as long as I’m photographing the Men’s game.

The Women’s version of the sport, if one can call it that, is in dire need of a major rules revision which will eliminate the need for referees to halt play every time the action on the field is about to peak.  Highly competitive women athletes who play the game must have extremely high thresholds for dealing with frustration.  Either that, or they might find themselves in need of Dr. Freud’s services.  But that’s a story for another day.

If you’re not familiar with lacrosse, I encourage you to take in a (men’s) game at a local high school or college.  If you’re a sports fan, you’re not likely to be disappointed.

OM