Tag Archive | "Sports"

No Rest For the Wicked


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Snow Covered Forest, Finland - 16

From David Anthony Hohol…

Living in the deserts of the Middle East  has its drawbacks. Some might not consider it such, but I really did miss winter for the decade plus I lived without it. Years passed without feeling the patter of snowflakes against my lip or the squint of my eyes at the rush a cold wind over my face. When I finally had the chance to watch a winter’s morning sunrise dance across the snow, I knew I was once again home. 

Within the realm of my rural Canadian upbringing, after hockey of course, the best part of winter was always ice-fishing. There was no greater joy shared between my grandfather and I, aside for morning chores out behind the barn, than taking the old pick-up for drive out onto the ice. He passed away seven years ago. Sometimes it feels like only yesterday the two of us fished amidst the peace of a winter’s dawn. Sometimes it seems like a thousand years have passed. Allow me to share with you the story of a typical day of grandfather and grandson out on the ice.  Perhaps that way, the memory can be taken off to far away place and live just a little bit longer.     

I jolt straight up out of a dead sleep, like a jack-in-the-box on speed, and slam my hand down on the snooze button. The small, beat-up clock radio, that’s older than I am, says 4:30 AM. My blurred eyes are almost stuck together and my bed feels like the warmest, safest place on earth. All I need is another five glorious minutes. Then, as suddenly as the alarm, I’m startled awake by my grandfather’s traditional fishing day wake up call. “Drop your cock and grab your socks! We got holes to dig!” he blurts out with a laugh.

Ice fishing with my grandfather always starts monstrously early. Looking like a zombie out of a cheap horror film, I clumsily make my way through the narrow bedroom door, and shuffle my still sleeping feet along the green shag carpet of the farmhouse living room. In the darkness, I slide my hand along the cold, oak paneling to find the light switch, and feel the black electrical tape covering a small crack in its casing, that’s been there my entire life. Once in the bathroom, I immediately turn on the water and stick my head under the tap. The icy water cascades over my face and quickly brings me back from the dead. The almost sweet water comes straight from the well, and is always cold and fresh. I then quickly hop back to my room to get dressed, because I know it won’t be long before my grandfather is outside, warming up the truck.

 Before I know it, I’m on my way out the door, armed with coffee and cigarette in hand. The cold air bites my damp skin, as I walk out into the frigid blackness of an arctic January morning in northern Alberta. My breath turns into an icy mist and rolls over my face, as I jump into my grandfather’s reliable, old pick-up. “Look at that sky… nice and clear. Those little bastards are gonna bite today,” my grandfather says with a smile, his gravelly voice always seeming to ring with truths.

We head down the lifeless void that is the highway, and the baron landscape of winter stares at us through the cracked windshield of the Chevy half ton. The only sign of life at five in the morning during the heart of a prairie winter is the wind that whistles through the truck, as we hurtle down the highway at a ferocious one hundred kilometers an hour. The cold and lonely sound of the wind outside the pick-up always makes me feel safe inside the cabin. The subtle smile upon my grandfather’s face always makes me feel warm.

 The two-hour ride always goes by quickly, and we reach Floating Stone Lake in what feels like no time at all. As my grandfather and I drive out onto its surface, the truck’s knobby tires crunch and squeak over the frozen ice and snow. A glacial wasteland appears before us, with no signs of existence, except for the frozen over holes of yesterday’s hearty fisherman. Even though we’re still shrouded in darkness, the sun has just begun to cautiously peak over the horizon, and the sky is turning into a hazy gray. The moon, although slowly fading, is still silhouetted in the misty heaven of the dawn. We drive around the frozen lake for several minutes, until my grandfather decides on a spot to fish. It is his firm belief that the place one chooses to fish is the most important decision of the day. He uses the power of deductive reasoning, sixty years of fishing experience, and a lot of good old-fashioned superstition, before finally making his choice. Prior to heading out on to the motionless tundra, I pour myself a piping hot, jet-black coffee. The steam and rich smell of my mug of morning rejuvenation fill the truck’s cabin, and it’s then we venture outside.

When I first step out on to the ice, I always feel as though I’m walking on the surface of a far away planet. The massive lake seems to go on forever, and the silence that surrounds us is deafening. The quiet emptiness, however, is wonderfully beautiful. No matter what, it’s always a good morning, and the world hasn’t quite woken from its wintry slumber. The air is clean, heavy with the scent of freshly fallen snow, and tinged with the scent of the gargantuan evergreens that surround the lake. At dawn, one could almost believe this place was a certain kind of heaven, far removed from civilization and its supposed sensibilities.

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As I chase the last drag of my smoke with a sip of hot coffee, my grandfather pops open the banged up tail gate of the pickup.  Shortly thereafter, out comes our trusty ice auger. It’s a steel contraption, with spiraling blades at the bottom, and a rotating handle up top. One has to drill their way through nearly four feet of ice under their own power, and my grandfather is always the first to go. After slamming the sharp end of the auger into the snow, he begins to furiously rotate the keenly-edged blades, drilling into the frozen surface below. The auger scrapes and spits, as my grandfather bores deeper and deeper into the ice, until finally, he breaks through. The icy water comes rushing up the hole, and for a moment, looks like a small geyser on the surface of the lake. “An ordinary man of my age would never use anything but a power auger, but then again, I’m no ordinary man!” he says with a satisfying laugh.

My grandfather remained a strong man late into his life. Until his body would simply no longer allow him to do so, he worked with his hands and his back. There’s nothing he enjoyed more than getting up at six in the morning to pack hay bails out to his herd, and to trudge twelve-gallon grain cans to his prize steers that went to market come spring. In many ways, he epitomized an iconic form of masculinity and I looked at him as a vision of strength throughout my entire life as a result.

After my Grandfather finishes, I grab the auger and follow suit. With our holes dug, it’s then time to grab our lines and bait. Juicy, plump maggots are always our number one preference, and my grandfather always seemed to have a strange affinity for these little creatures. After carefully puncturing a maggot onto our hooks, down the line goes, and then all we do is wait. As I look across at my grandfather, the wind begins to pick up for a moment and blows across his time beaten face. A small, yet satisfying smile falls under his thin, gray, neatly trimmed moustache. Sitting on his grain can, he reaches into his three-quarter length, green parka and pulls out one extra mild, king size cigarette. As he puts the smoke in his mouth, I notice his jagged and bent fingers. His hands are like stone figures carved with deep creases and wrinkles, a necessitating result of more than sixty years of back-breaking work. As he exhales his first drag, the smoke bellows from the side of his mouth like smoke from a chimney a on a windy day. After rolling over his dark eyes and finely carved crows feet, the smoke disappears over his head.

My grandfather always amazed me, and at times, I looked at him with awe. I often wondered what it would be like to be old, what I would be like to have all those memories and experiences, to see your children’s children grow into adults themselves, and to have lived through wars and entire eras. It was my grandfather that made me look forward to getting older; it was my grandfather that allowed me to accept my humanity. I will forever be grateful.

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My dogmatic state is then suddenly broken, when my grandfather blurts out, “There we go!” and tosses aside his fishing stick to pull the fish up by the line.

Hand over hand, he pulls the line up. When the fish finally reaches the surface of the icy water, he tosses it aside, away from the jagged hole. The fat perch wriggles and gyrates on the snow like a newborn baby, its jaws gasping violently. My grandfather then steps on the tail of the great beast with his big black boot, and with stick in hand, smacks the fish over the head. It’s been put out of its misery. Upon standing up straight, he takes in a deep breath and pauses for a moment, to take in the world around him. His eyes carry with them a twinkle, and as he walks over to his grain can to once again sit down and lower his line, his youthful stride is filled with exuberance. At times, I see a young boy in my grandfather when he’s fishing. It fills me with joy and makes feel close to the man like nothing else in the world.

The ritual of fishing- it’s something, that for all its simplicity, holds resplendent moments of beauty and peace. If I ever earn the profound privilege of some day being a father, and if I’m somehow magically blessed with then seeing my children have children of their own, I would take my grandchildren out for a day on the ice. Not only to teach them the art of fishing, but to tell them stories of their great grandfather and what a great man he was. And I would tell them, even though they’ve never met him, he continues to influence their lives, each and everyday.

On the drive back, the sun is now bright, and the sky is a clear abyss. The sun is never brighter than on a clear winter day. The magnificent rays of sunshine dance like a ballerina on the sea of white that surrounds us. The blinding sky, the howling wind outside the truck, and the side of the road that rushes by us, always puts me in a trance. The conversation between my grandfather and myself varies, but as always, includes some discussion of his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs, and what kind of team the Blue Jays were going to have come spring. Soon we will be home.

As we finally reach the one hundred yard driveway to the farmhouse, the house where both my father and grandfather were born, I’m happy. The farmyard, which was in a deep winter sleep when we left, is now wide-awake. The cats and dogs running about, the rustling of the cattle out by the barn, and as always, my grandmother in the big bay window, watching us pull up the driveway, all bring the farm back to life. As we pull into the yard, the cats and dogs surround the truck like children chasing the ice cream man, in hopes of dining on the fish to small to fry. We then unload the pick-up, and I begin to make my way to the house with the fish we have caught. “Take those to Baba and tell to make sure there’s lotsa garlic, I’ll be in after chores,” declares my grandfather.

No matter how big or small the job, my grandfather always seems to be on the go. As he walks out towards the old, worn down barn that still stands tall and strong, I once again think to myself how one very much embodies the other. They’ve both been worn down by time a little bit, but still do the job they’ve always done. They both still offer protection and warmth from the battles of life, and continue to symbolize strength, responsibility, and endurance that still lives and breathes today. As I reach the front step, I hear my Grandfather say with a chuckle, “Oh boy… if there’s no rest for the wicked, I must be the wickedest man alive,” and I smile, as I place my hand of the steel door knob.

Slowly opening the door to the farmhouse, the only door that has always been there for me to open, I feel the warmth of the kitchen upon my flushed face. At that moment, all seems right with the world and as I take off my snow-covered boots, I know deep in my heart, I’m right where I’m supposed to be.  

 

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Thai Girls Are Awesome


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From James O’Hearn…

It’ll never happen, mostly because the Toronto Maple Leafs are addicted to sucking, and they like to fill their roster like the Oakland A’s from Moneyball (except that the Leafs ride high on a pile of fithly lucre, which makes their actions seem doubly insane), but if they did decide to take a leap into the unknown, and maybe whip up some excitement, I dont think they could do any better than signing 17 year old Wasunun Angkulpattanasuk.

Wha? Who? You say.

Just recently, at the Under 18 Challenge Cup of Asia, the Thailand team found themselves sans a goalie. Apparently male Thai’s think being a goalie is a sissy thing, which only goes to show that they haven’t seen enough footage of Patrick Roy or Ron Hextall. In any event, since none of the boys would put on the mask, the Thai team had no choice but to take on little Wasunun as their lone hope in net.

Once in the UAE, the Thai team nearly faced disqualification for this coed situation, but since the goalies don’t interact with the other players, the tournament officials argued, there would be no chance of gender contamination, and therefore she could play (*Again, Roy, Hextall, et al).

Maybe they thought a girl in net would be a great opportunity to light up the scoreboard. Who knows. But what they got was a size two skate up the rear, because this little firebrand wasn’t just standing around.

By the end of the tournament, the Thais has scored 47 goals, with Wasunun letting in only 4 total. A GAA of 1!

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Sporting Masculinity


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From David Anthony Hohol…

I started playing hockey at the age of four, and it remained an integral and constant part of my life until I was nearly twenty years old. Hockey in Canada, especially in rural areas, is not just our nation’s pastime, but a way of life and a belief in an idea. Hockey is organized like most sports with minor leagues, junior ranks, semi-pro and pro levels, each with their own governing bodies and modus operandi. All kinds play the game of hockey, as there are many different roles to be filled. There are certain personas in team sport, however, that rise to positions of leadership and power, just as there are those who lead us on the fields of battle, and in the politically charged ideological wars of our postmodern world.

Leadership and social power are both integral parts of athletics, and even more so in a violent and physical sport such as the game of hockey. Effective leadership in hockey makes the team more successful. Who becomes team leaders and what makes them effective is something that I began to actively pursue an understanding of about half way through my fifteen-year hockey career.

I so loved playing that game. At times the feelings that still live on within me surge through my body and manifest themselves into tiny pockets of emotion. Pride, reverence, and sentimentality flow through me, as I look back at the time I spent in the sport of hockey and see it as amongst the most important and self-improving times in my life.  In retrospect, it seems I was a part of something that was indefinable yet complete in itself. Philosophical undertows aside, I was a member of a very powerful and decisive subculture. We all worked together in order to achieve a common goal. We had our own rules of protocol, our own rituals, our own values, and even our own language. Like men on a frozen battlefield, our goal was always victory. Other valuable objectives, both as a team and as individual players would always be included, but it was conquest that everyone’s efforts revolved around, and thus victory was our ultimate goal. The structure of hierarchy on a team was to be respected at all times, as we needed to be a cohesive unit in order to achieve that victory. Problems with individuals were discussed amongst the team first, the coaching staff second. We were the ones who would be out there in the fight together, so disputes had to be settled internally. Problems with the team system or philosophy would be communicated to the team captain or his assistants first. We did not disrespect our coach in front the team. We left the dressing room in the same order, we warmed up in the same order, and ended every warm up the same way with the ritualistic tapping of our goaltender’s pads. Last but not least, the captain would always be the last man back with the goalie before the opening face-off.

Most importantly, no matter if it was the pre-season, the regular season or the playoffs, and no matter what the score or situation, if two or more opposing players physically doubled up on one of our own, we were to save our man at all costs. This precluded absolutely everything and is the only time victory or defeat was temporarily set aside. When one of our men was down, it was the team’s responsibility to not only get him safely out of harms way, but to avenge him with extreme prejudice. This is why physical play in hockey is so revered, as it represents sacrifice, solidarity, leadership and power all at once.

What results from this exceptionally powerful cohesiveness and structure is the emergence of a unique language or argot, a form of communication born from the domestic side of hockey and is used to refer to both teammates and opponents alike. Whether it be grinders, goons, cherry pickers, hackers, stick men, submariners, hat tricks, shut outs, bangers, or shadows, the terminology is endlessly unique and is quite perplexing to those fully removed from the group. The bottom line is that such idiosyncratic standards demonstrate patterns of a distinct subculture. Deeper still, the foundational super structure that serves as point zero for any and all characteristics is that we all operated under the pretext of hegemonic masculinity, as power and leadership within a male inter-group structure of hierarchy was vital to the maintenance, growth and success of the team. As all subcultures are, any team I played on was a social group that stood completely separate from yet integrally connected to the daily ingestion of human experience.

I spent a large portion of my years playing hockey in a leadership role. Why did I become a team leader? As I now look back upon my past through the lenses of a classical education, it seems the necessary characteristics were there, and perhaps they always had been. Without question drive, the desire for achievement, and leadership motivation were all integral components of my ability to lead. I wanted to be the best, I wanted to be the one that the coaches and the team looked to as an example of how to play the game; I wanted it more than anything. Further still, honesty and integrity was applied through my candid approach to both my coaches and my teammates. At times, I was seen as a hothead, as I just couldn’t help but say what was on my mind. Contrarily, I was respected as someone who was always open and honest. I played honest as well, as no matter who it was I played for when I was out on that ice my heart was always on the sleeve of my jersey. Self-confidence and cognitive ability also applied to my ascent to the leadership role. I never considered being intimidated an option, which directly correlated to the development of my ability to read others team’s systems, discover their weakest points, and my specialty, latching on to the opposing teams weak minded players and provoking them right out of the game.

Although I didn’t make all of the decisions all of the time and I didn’t constantly give orders, I probably leaned towards an autocratic style of leadership. I did so, however, as an autocratic in democratic clothing, a Napoleonic style of leadership that works very well, albeit slightly Machiavellian. Present to your teammates the right to choose, but subtlety convince them that your way is the best without them knowing it. If one is a good leader this approach encourages all to participate while simultaneously activating your ideas the vast majority of the time. At all times, however, I was well aware of team hierarchy. Certain players were more followers than leaders, and other players were more leaders than followers. Beyond the team aristocracy, there was a wide range of players who were all important parts of the team, no matter how big or small their role. I felt it my duty as a team leader to be able to handle different players in different situations, and at different levels to maintain the power structure of the team. The sociological approach that most applies itself at this point is called Normative Theory, that suggests leaders are most effective when their decision-making styles are formulated on a situational basis. In other words, a leader’s ability to establish a definition of the situation is a vital part of leadership, as the idea of the reflexive self once again demonstrates its centrality to social psychology.

I believe that the inter-actionist approach explains much of why I came to lead, as I was the right leader for the right situation due to a combination of past experiences. The ability to lead and the ideals of masculinity from which they stemmed, had been developed from within my childhood reference groups and role models. My grandfathers both epitomized masculinity. My mother’s father was a paratrooper for the British Army during WWII, and then served as a police officer for twenty-eight years, including twenty years as a homicide detective. He always symbolized authority and that masculine detachment from emotion. My father’s father worked his entire life farming out on the prairies of Alberta, working with his hands and his back for more than sixty years, a man’s man and the picture of strength. My father’s image was that of Johnny Slick, an in- your-face publisher heavily involved with politics, who was sued for defamation of character countless times, but in representing himself in court never lost once. Telling it like it is, regardless of the sting that resulted, was my father’s specialty. All these men, in combination with the traditionally subordinated persona of my grandmothers and my mother, produced a constant countenance of masculinity and I came to see these ideals as being represented in leadership, and in some ways I guess I still do.

The masculine image of the men of my reference group brings us to the idea of hegemonic masculinity; the masculinity of power and leadership. Hegemonic masculinity is part of the very fiber of my hockey experience. The masculinity of leadership is an integral part of sport, and it becomes heightened with a higher the level of violence and physical play. There’s no doubt, team leaders become figureheads of hegemonic masculinity. As mentioned, I used the normative approach to leadership and incorporated my legitimate power as a team leader, my reward power to offer my approval from a position of authority, and my referent power, as I had the ability to call my team into action. Like the sport/war metaphors that are so common in the world of athletics, when I stood in front of my teammates before a big game I spoke with an androcentric tongue and stood as an elite male extending his influence and control over lesser status males within the team inter-male dominance hierarchy.

Sport/war metaphors valorize masculinity and lionize or make heroes out of the most aggressive men. I always led my team with a socialized power motivation. I wanted to be lionized. I wanted to be seen as the picture of masculinity to serve my own ego, but also to work with my teammates and lead by example, so that in the end we all would be victorious. As a hockey player, victory was the only thing that ever mattered to me, the only thing I played for… for fifteen years. And not only did I want to win, to use a sport/war metaphor, I wanted to crush my opponent and stand above my vanquished enemy as a symbol of hegemonic masculinity. I was often told by the many I played with and against that I was one of the most brutal and animalistic players they had ever seen. I did and still do take pride in that. Furthermore, I always saw myself as though playing on a stage and as a result I would often skate a brief but victorious circle around a fallen foe, still dazed from the crushing blow I laid upon him and say “Keep your head up boy”, as I skated back into battle leaving him immersed in hegemonic totalitarianism.

I respected the hierarchical structure of leadership and power in the game of hockey immensely. Hegemonic masculinity is always constructed in relation to a variety of subordinated masculinities and I was by no means always the vision of the elite male. The first half of my hockey career I was the subordinated male in the power structure of the team and I did so with pride. I remember when playing for and winning the Alberta Championships, I wanted the best players out there on the ice as much as possible, well aware that at that time I was not one of them. I looked at my role as providing rest for the team’s elite and security for my coaches by playing solid positional hockey when I was on the ice. I wanted to win – nothing else mattered. My role was embedded in the structural hierarchy of hegemonic masculinity. I had a part to play and played it well.

The second half of my hockey career involved a five-inch and fifty-pound growth spurt and the discovery of how physical play, and even out right violence triggered not only my offensive skills, but also my ability to lead. I remember as if it were yesterday the first time I was struck with this revelation at the age of thirteen. I’d already began to play rougher early in that season, but there was one instance in just our third or fourth game of the year when I caught a guy with his head down and literally knocked him cold right in front of our bench. What I remember clear as crystal was that when I looked up, I saw all my teammates and even my coach pumping their fists and screaming approving obscenities. The whistle blew and the young man had to be taken off the ice by his trainer.

I’ll never forget that hit. It was the first time I experienced power, not from the hit itself, but through my teammates’ reaction to it. It was a catharsis that changed my hockey career and deeper still, it changed me as a person. I made the jump to being a leader shortly thereafter and I began to realize that male solidarity is achieved and maintained by constructing and reconstructing inter-group relations at many levels. At a societal level, this represents hegemonic values as not only advantageous, but entirely essential to social order as it serves as an amalgamating ideological structure.

Fast forward a couple of years and I’d immersed myself in machismo and testosterone and more often than not, I was the leader. I became of those off-the-hook, over-the-top lunatics, who specialized in athletically sanctioned battery and assault. By extension, I was extremely adept at whipping an entire room of young men, oozing socially prescribed maleness, into an absolute frenzy. While in the locker room before hockey games, there were times I would pound my head into a steel cage that held the team’s equipment, while screaming war cries like some kind of madman, until my teammates frothed at the mouth. During the pre-game warm up, I skated out onto the ice without my helmet, so the opposing team could see the steel grating of the cage imprinted on my forehead. All the while, I stared down my opponents with a look that seemed to suggest I was planning on drowning their kittens or shooting their dogs after the game.

The off-shooting result of such ritual is the systematic delineation of gender. Manly men of aggression are lionized, while men who appear to be weak or passive are marginalized and emasculated. An extremely physical sport such as hockey thus links maleness to highly valued visible skills, and with the positively sanctioned use of violence and aggression. Such images serve as resources of mobilization to advance, justify and rationalize the patriarchal values that delineate hegemonic forms of masculinity.

Hegemonic masculinity also pigeon holes women into the subordinated roles of mother, wife or girlfriend, while officially licensing homophobia all in the name of the masculinity of leadership and power. Hegemonic masculinity represents, reproduces and legitimizes relations of domination under the guise of cultural values, norms, and beliefs. Such a construction frames out resistance as to challenge this will be perceived by many as challenging the fundamental morality of the social order and is often painted as an opposition to the very core of values upon which our society was built.  In the end, hegemonic masculinity thus survives and thrives on the mantle of its own neutrality, and the hegemonic androcentric construct of Western society is one in which the most manly of men still construct, maintain, and control the agencies of domination and power. The extremely cathartic experience of athleticism is an extension of these societal ideologies and gives the masses the temporal opportunity to wield micro-level power, while reciprocally supplying an arena to restore to the world the pre-conceived learning mechanisms of a given civilization, perpetuating the mass production of a society’s membership and the structure of power that results.

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The Ball Rolled Round The World


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From United States Corespondent Gibbs Burke…  

GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLLLLL!!!!!

No matter what language you speak, it’s the most recognizable sound around the world and for one month every four years it’s what every fan dreams of hearing. For most Americans however, it’s a lost sport. Of course, I am talking about Football –  or soccer as we  Americans call it. To many international fans around the world,  it sounds strange to here it called soccer.  Little do people realize this was actually the sport’s original name.

 

American Soccer is a forgotten sport. Perhaps it’s the low scoring that turns our attention away from the game. Then again we do like hockey and some of those scores are pretty low. Perhaps it is the Shakespearian acting every time a player is looking to get a penalty call.  We love a sport where 300 pound men collide into one another, get back up and do it all over again – how could we cheer for a diving man, rolling around on the playing, crying like child? Most couldn’t tell you why Americans don’t like soccer, but after watching the qualifying rounds for the round of 16, I’m sure I can shed some light on the subject.

I would have to say the biggest thing is the refereeing. Not only do we hate the fact that someone has to “take a dive” to get a call, but even when the call is the easiest one to make the refs still mess it up. In the opening round of play, I was impressed by the balance and fair calls. I had little to no complaints until the teams started their second games, and out came the usual favoring and bullshit I’m used to seeing in FIFA play. For an association based in a neutral country and priding itself on integrity and fairness, FIFA has the most corrupt officiating in the world.

From calls such as the one in Irish vs. France game that kept Ireland out of the World Cup, or the ever more recent no call non-allowance of what would have been USA’s “Miracle on the Pitch,” FIFA has constantly favored certain teams. In fact they have appeared to almost scripted games to end in a manor they see fit.

There are many answers to the problems. They could fire the officials and re-hire them every year based on evaluation; such as was done to USA umps in major league baseball when suspiscion of corruption came into play. Allow instant replay for plays pertaining to certain situations would also help. It’s present in every other major sport. Why is it not present in the most played sport in the world? Makes one wonder.

Even with all the lopsidedness, what is it about soccer that brings so many people together?

As I sat in a bar Saturday watching the Germany vs. Australia game cheering for Germany, little did I know I was sitting next to an Aussie. Even before the ball was live on the pitch, we were talking about the players and qualifying, along with what we thought the outcome would be. A courteous, non American Football fan, by the fifteenth minute we were buying pitchers for one another – something I would never do with an opposing American Football fan.

No matter what the reason, there is something about international competition that brings us together in our humanity. Whether it’s the Olympics or the World Cup, international play brings together everyone, united in a common interest. No matter what our nationality, we’re behind our teams while at the same time being  joined with one another as fans and patriots.

I’m an American and I am proud to say, “I love the World Cup.”

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Top Ten Highest Paid Athletes


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There was a time when playing professional sports meant adoration from fans and a very good living. Now star athletes are mega-star, multi-national conglomerates, making ten of millions of dollars a year. Much of this money goes beyond the athletes base salary and includes highly lucrative endorsements deals. By the end of their careers a quarter or half a billion dollars has been made and in the case of professional golfer Tiger Woods, with more than 700 million already earned, a billion dollar career is very possible. Whether or not he makes it there will depend largely on how Woods psychologically weathers the unprecedented media storm following his recent indiscretions.  There are three basketball players in the top ten and one is retired, as Micheal Jordan places fourth despite not having played a game in several years. Pro motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi is perhaps the most anonymous name and when endorsements are excluded, the highest paid athlete was world champion boxer Manny “the Pac-Man” Paquiao.

  • 1. Tiger Woods / pro golfer – $110 million
  • 2. Kimi Raikonen / formula 1 race car driver – $51 million
  • 3. Kobe Bryant / pro basketball player – $45 million
  • 4. Micheal Jordan / retired pro bakketball player – $44 million
  • 5. David Beckham / pro soccer player  – $42 million
  • 6. Lebron James / pro basketball player – $40 million
  • 7. Phil Mickelson / pro golfer – $40 million
  • 8. Manny Pacquiao / pro boxer – $40 million
  • 9. Fernando Alonso / formula 1 race car driver – $40 million
  • 10. Valentino Rossi / pro motorcycle racer – $35 million

*all totals are in US dollar and all figures from 2009

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Top Ten Male Bonding Activities


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FishingOne thing we all know for sure is that despite our similarities,  men and women and very different. A key difference between genders has always been how we socialize with one another.  Sociologists have long pointed out men tend to mix best while in the midst of an activity of some sort. Women, on the other hand, socialize best when participating in activities involving emotional connection.  As a result, the items on our list involve some sort of action or at least the observation of action. Practicality was also taken into consideration, as week long camping trips would be great, but it takes just a little bit longer than getting together on the weekend to throw the football around. So, what are the 10 best way guys do guy-stuff with other guys? Here’s RELATIVITY OnLine’s own countdown of the 10 best ways to hang out and get to know your friends – in a manly way of course.

  • 1. Watching Sports
  • 2. Fishing
  • 3. Working Out
  • 4. Playing Sports
  • 5. Fixing Something
  • 6. Going to see an action Movie
  • 7. Hiking / Camping
  • 8. Hunting
  • 9. Video Games
  • 10. Complain about wives / girlfriends
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In Defense of Cricket


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4-ohearn

From James O’Hearn…

I fully understand that sense of confusion upon first encountering the world of cricket. While I lived in North America, and even in Japan, cricket seemed no more than a quaint, laughable neurosis of the few Australians, New Zealanders, and South Asians that I knew. But then I moved to the Middle East.

Though the Middle East in and of itself is not a hotbed for cricket, the place is overflowing with South Asians, Australians, South Africans, and Brits. Because of this, cricket has a prominent place on television. When the WCC was on, it actually was televised…around the world, sans-North America, to over two billion people, on Fox Sports no less. During the WCC, in which a semi-truncated form of the game, ODI, was played, I found myself inexplicably, yet inexorably pulled into a love of and admiration for the game. Then, a few months later, when the latest form of cricket debuted, Twenty20, in which a game lasts for just about as long as the average baseball game, I was hooked. Utterly and absolutely.

I know and love baseball, and have all my life. I started young, playing t-ball, graduating to pee-wee, through to hardball and softball in high school, and then shifting to slo-pitch during my decadent years at university. I have played the game in one form or another all my life. In every sense, baseball is the sport that for me is not only infused in memory, but becomes memory itself for those brief hours when I am out on the diamond.

When I lived in Japan, their love of baseball, even though at the time it was being threatened by a new found passion for soccer, was exhilarating. Indeed, the way the sport was played, and the way in which the fans went about watching a game had something about it that my experiences watching professional baseball in North America never had – the sense of being at home. What do I mean by this? Well, if you have ever seem the film Mr. Baseball, with Tom Selleck, cliche ridden as it is, it still evokes, in small moments, they way the average fan acts and behaves at a game. From slurping down ramen and having a beir-u (beer) or some sho-chu (think Vodka for Koreans), there is little sense that they are in an alien environment, removed from everyday life. In many ways sitting down to watch the Yomiuri Giants take apart the Hiroshima Carp (Lovely name for a team), is like sitting down on a lawn chair watching your buddy’s team play in the local beer league. There is a sense of relaxation, an absence of overt commercialization, and a lack of distance between the fans and the players that so marks professional baseball in North America. Seriously…when the New York Yankees paid more for one baseball player than it would cost to fund five thousand full four year scholarships to Ivy League schools, you can hardly picture yourself standing beside the average multi-millionaire MLB player, talking about the weather.

Cricket, like Japanese baseball and the local beer league, offers the fan that same sense of being at home. Whether you are watching a test match, which can take days, an ODI match, which takes about six to eight hours, or a Twenty20 match, which might last from two to three hours, there is a greater sense of connection between the fans and the players. The players themselves cannot help but be more human, frail and fallible in the eyes of cricket fans than ever a professional MLB player could be. The same goes for the local beer league. As good as Jim or Bob is at the game, you still remember that he picks up your garbage every Tuesday morning. In Japan, the nature of the society itself precludes the possibility that even the best baseball players would hold themselves above and dissociated from the common man. Yet that same sense of commonality, of being on the same level, just doesn’t exist in Major League Baseball. Part of reason for this, from what I have seen, comes about from the structure of the game itself

In baseball, if the best, highest paid, most dominating player steps up to the plate at the beginning of the game, and messes up, it really is no big deal. What if Barry Bonds strikes out in the first inning? So what? No problem. He’s potentially got eight more chances to launch something into orbit. But in cricket, when that Barry Bonds-esque, team carrying, win-loss deciding player steps up to the wicket, and he messes up, that’s it. It’s over. For him, and sometimes for his team. And when these Bonds-esque players do stand up, for every time they rise to the occasion and crush out a hundred runs straight, there are five times to that one when they go down in ignominy. If you were to analyze the greatest baseball players in history, and eliminate every statistic after their first out in every game they played, I am quite sure that the results would be more than startling.

The mind has the tendency to obfuscate failure, to fuzz out inconvenient truths, and focus on that one home run in the sixth inning that decided the game one time, when it really counted. What if that run in the sixth inning never had a chance to happen? How would we regard our best baseball players then? What would have happened to all those baseball movies where the hero fails and fails again, but in the last moment, in the bottom of the ninth, finds redemption in the form of a fastball making a swift exit over the fence? Indeed that Conradian, redemptive narrative can be found in every corner of the sport, from the player’s thought that no matter what happens, in the next inning they can turn things around, to the fan’s sure knowledge that when their team is at bat again, the tables will be turned. It is the narrative that has defined the rise, fall, and rise of the American republic, and the advance of American power and hegemony.

When the nation was torn asunder through civil war, it yet rose again, the same as before, but stronger. When the economy was ravaged by the great depression, the nation pulled itself up by virtue of the greatest do-over in history. Redemption is an absolutely intrinsic part of the American story. Few, if any, countries have done this or have had the chance to. Most are lost, or suffer irreversible change when catastrophe strikes. How many republics has France had by now? In the past hundred years and a bit, Germany has had a Reich or three, a divorce, a reunification, and an irrevocable scouring of their national history and narrative. Japan, once the proudest, most warlike nation on earth, sure of its path to power by virtue of divine providence, became a nation of craven pacifists, simultaneously beholden to tradition and modernity, and an overwhelming powerlessness to step up and become a presence on the international stage. Unlike the United States, these nations never had a do-over, they were told to play a new game, by new rules. For these nations, and for those who play cricket, there is no next chance. But not for the United States, and not for baseball. For them, there is always a next chance. It’s the essence of American exceptionalism. But if there was no next chance, what would happen then?

If there were no second chances in baseball, would the top ten players in the country still collectively be worth more than $1.5 billion dollars? Would they seem as superhuman, as ethereally distant and different from everyday mortals as to almost seem to be a different form of life in and of themselves? Or would they be more human, frail and fallible? Would they seem to be more like us? Would they be mere humans?

Though I seem to be disparaging baseball, do remember that I love the game, have played it all my life, and will continue to play until I have to be pushed around the bases in a wheelchair. Yet, as Joseph O’Neil points out in his lovely paean to C.L.R. James, a sport can also represent a discourse about politics and society. Baseball truly does represent the American discourse, from the head on nature of the game, which is like the straightforward attack and defense of chess to cricket’s more subtly strategic Go-like nature. In that vein you can also find American football, and basketball, with a constant give and take, and switching of sides. In baseball there is usually a chance to try again, and again, and again. In cricket, by contrast, there is not.

In cricket, when your team is up to bat, you have that one chance. And while the going may seem good for a while, just like the British Empire, things can change when it’s the other team’s turn. From then on you are not trying to win, so much as trying to not lose. And with every setback, and every ball past the boundary, you see the eternal glory of the afternoon slipping away into the distance. And it is not coming back. There is no next chance. There is no do-over; just fate, the crushing weight of history, and the chance for a new narrative. This was the case when dark horse India defeated England in the 1983 world cup. Or, more recently, when MS Dhoni, a second rate nobody who, in the wake of India’s crushing failure at the 2007 World Cup of Cricket, was sent to captain the Indian squad at the first Twenty20 World Cup. He was sent almost as an afterthought, but this second rate nobody pulled off one of the greatest modern feats of sports leadership. He led India to victory, overcoming an Australian team who, in the world of cricket, were dominating in a way the New York Yankees could only dream of. On that day a new cricket narrative was born, and a billion Indians embraced a new national hero. Not because he or the team had a lucky break or did one thing right, but because they did everything right. Not because they stepped up to the wicket one last time, but because they stepped up to the wicket and did it right, the first time. Baseball, like the American consciousness, is forgiving. And the fame, while bright, is short lived ephemeral. But in cricket, when you are made immortal by virtue of your efforts on the field, your fame lives on.

Oh, and there are also some wicked fast bowlers. Forget Randy Johnson, because when you see Lasith Malinga fly across the pitch like an insane banshee, there just aint no going back.

 

 

 

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