What I Think About the National Anthem Protests: NFL Players Can Kneel & Trump Is a Bum

A grandfather, father and son; three generations of William Sabia’s; three generations of Philly sports fans used to go watch 18 baseball games every summer. We watched them together from our right field seats all through my younger and more vulnerable years. We watched the best years with the mullet brigade of 1993 that lost the World Series to a bunch of Canadian hosers. We also watched the worst years of Philadelphia Phillies baseball. The years when future Hall of Shamers Von Hayes or Steve Jeltz were the best players, the years when the stadium was a non-descript, circular, multi-purpose green hole called Veterans Stadium. The floors were wet even on sunny days, the food was limited to soggy hot dogs or stale pretzels and the bathrooms were intimidatingly filthy, but my memories of those summer nights remain as pure as Kevin Costner’s plan in Field of Dreams.

We’d eat a big Italian dinner at Dante & Luigi’s then make our way to the parking lot. (Later we’d relocate from that eatery to Medora’s Mecca due to an attempted mafia hit in 1989.) The games, as all American sports, began with a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” I used to take off my hat, stand at attention, hand over heart and peek up at my grandfather who served in the Navy during WW2. He seemed to be rather emotionless and more excited to mark down the bases and strikes in the program book. The song reminded me of him, and my other deceased family members who served.

It was my feelings that I can more surely remember. Beyond the excitement of sitting with my Naunu and Dad with their undivided attention on me and whatever phase of young problems were bothering me at that moment, I was definitely moved by that song every time. To this day, the goose bumps still raise my sparse arm hairs, chilling each nerve during the final crescendo of that contrasting anthem to war and freedom.

Playing Pee-Wee football in my little town, we couldn’t afford helmets or pads newer than the 1970’s dress-up kits in which we used to be outfitted. Thus, our little crappy speaker system, on which my Italian surname was consistently and variously butchered, played a very weak instrumental version of the national anthem. Nevertheless, we all stood, swimming in our oversized helmets and one size fits none shoulder pads. Most of the time, the flag lay limp on the pole, a far cry from the 100 yard flapping inspiration held taught by veterans we see on Sunday Night Football. The “flag was still there” is the way to understand it. We play contact sports under the lights and under the flag. We zone out while pledging allegiance to it. Cheesy American backpackers during the Bush era used to sew Canadian flags to their rucksacks to avoid political conversations about Iraq. The flag is there, even when you don’t notice it or try to hide it.

The flag is boldly symbolic of our unity and passively suggestive of the manifested destiny of struggles our past has provided our future. It means different things to all, just like our country. Some immigrants imagined America as paved with gold, a metaphor for golden opportunities for their children. Other forced “immigrants” found a world of cruelty and enslavement. The “flag was still there” through all those rounds of foreigners coming voluntarily or vice versa. The stars kept growing and history kept moving. The American flag is a visual expression of our pride, or our pain. Surely, we can all understand both sides.

The benevolent peace I experience from the national anthem as a white male, non-veteran yet proud American may be starkly divergent from my cultural opposites. I’ve seen the cellphone videos of police brutality and I watched in disbelief through the Rodney and O.J. affairs. I recently watched Ava Duvernay’s 13th (Netflix) and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro (Amazon). They are eye-opening glimpses of an American experience where the stars and stripes provide a twisted pride. A pride of earned freedom but never escaping from under a racist thumb, people rising as a Phoenix from their historical ashes only to sink again under the destructive weight of racist oppression.

Enter Colin Kaepernick in 2016, a Super Bowl caliber NFL QB confronting his American confusion from within his bi-racial skin while growing up adopted in a white family, part of an all-Black college fraternity, blessed with superhuman sporting skills and cursed with a mind too curious to just keep his mouth shut and cash the checks. He lives in a world where Obama is president to only half the country, Black men’s murders are being caught on video at a terrible pace and here he is, making millions, wondering what words or even what right he may have to use his celebrity to say something.

He takes a knee. Like the proverbial ripples on a still pond, his kneel reverberated. The ripples cost him his job. The ripples have now flowed from the Bay Area to D.C. This week, our disgraceful 45th president, who never misses a chance to take an uneducated, unthinking, unsophisticated gut reaction into the public without any semblance of nuance called Kaepernick and anyone else kneeling a “son of a bitch.” He called American men, American athletes, American protesters, American heroes—sons of bitches. He called them that because they are looking to enact change, or at the least bring awareness to a decades old problem—some police see Black men as dangerous. Let’s ignore the fact that Trump speaks the way kids imitate their drunk, racist grandfather and just acknowledge that he is a boring, tactless, race-baiting, impulsive, spiteful, incurious, douchebag. His opinions are as useless as a bikini in Saudi Arabia. His face is as paunchy as a hippo duck facing a selfie. Instead of being sympathetic or simply ignoring this story, he blew moonshine into the bonfire.

Johnny Cash was the man in black. “I wear it for the poor and beaten down, living on the hopeless, hungry side of town. I wear it for the prisoner who has long paid for his crime, but is there because he’s a victim of the times.” These football players are men in black, men whose blackness defines their life, but not their identity. Many of them came from that hopeless, hungry side of town. Many of them may know someone in prison for a victimless crime like marijuana. Johnny Cash wore black; they are choosing, like Kaepernick, to take a knee, to show that America has not fully reconciled its slave-holding past. We have not fully committed to our motto, E Pluribus Unum. Thirteen letters, thirteen original colonies, thirteenth amendment. America is trying to move forward. Trump is a gold plated, bone spurred step backward.

We all must try to understand that black lives matter doesn’t negate other lives. Taking down Civil War statues doesn’t negate history. Kneeling before the flag doesn’t negate others’ sacrifices. The NFL players are allowed to kneel for the song. The flag will still be there. It reflects what we project upon it. Whatever you see within those Stars & Stripes probably reveals part of your own personal American history, standing, sitting or kneeling.

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How to Fix Boxing in 3 Easy Steps

Floyd “Money for My Lawyers” Mayweather and Manny “No Birth Control” Pacquiao recently fought to a unanimously boring decision in Mayweather’s favor. A total of 229 punches were landed in the fight, which averages to six per minute or 19 per round (a small number compared to the real “fight of the century” Ward v. Gatti in 2002 when those punch-happy crowd-pleasers combined for a staggering average of 17 punches landed per minute and 51 per round). None of Mayweather’s or Pacquiao’s shots were able to induce a knockout, knockdown or even a stumble. People paid tens of thousands of dollars to see the fight live, or hundreds to stream it to their living room. They deserve to see more than jabs, sidesteps and clinches. If that is the best that boxing can provide, it’s safe to say the sport needs help. Yes, that was probably the payoff for the sendoff fight for both elderly pugilists, but can you name two other boxers fighting today that could legitimately provide a “fight of the century?” Boxing hasn’t been entertaining since Ali, it hasn’t been intriguing since the golden days of the 80’s, and it hasn’t been interesting since Tyson bit off Holyfield’s ear. Let’s take a look at a few quick fixes.

1) Make the Gloves Smaller:

Boxing gloves provide lots of additional power. Because of the added weight, they prove more devastating upon impact. Yet, they also provide a way to defend oneself. Let’s get some nice small gloves so that the hands can’t hide the face or body so easily from power punches. Viewers want to see punches land. We watch boxing for the knockouts or for the dazed fury of a comeback. Who wants to pay to watch someone who can dodge a punch? It’s not exciting, nor does it satisfy the bloodthirsty Roman in us to watch boxers “dance.” There’s plenty of crappy reality dance shows for that (Mayweather was on one in 2007). “Wow! Did you see him avoid getting hit?! That was awesome the way he didn’t get a swollen eye.” Nobody cares that you can move out of the way; we want to see how many punches you can give and take!

*Side note—if you dodge all the punches and then knock somebody out with a counter, all is forgiven; however, just avoiding hits for a half hour and then winning on points is not entertaining.

2) Enough with the Punching Already:

Let’s see some kicking and elbows and body slams! Yes, punches can hurt. You know what else hurts? A knee to the gut, an elbow to the nose, a shin to the thigh, a backfist to the temple. We want to see some action, like a real fight. (The unwritten rule in male street fights is nothing to the balls and no pulling hair. Street fights aren’t sweet science; they’re ugly and brutal and the reason why they’re filmed on cellphones and dispersed all over YouTube.) What if there was a sport like that? What if there was a sport where people could use all the beautiful defense of Karate, the marauding attacks of Muay Thai, the grappling techniques of wrestling and Jiu-jitsu, the takedowns of Judo and added them to the subtle ring knowledge and punches of boxing? Imagine Floyd tying up Pacquiao (in a typically boring, completely legal boxing procedure) to slow him down after a long barrage by clinching up, only to see Manny release a head grabbing uppercut or knee strike in retaliation! Imagine a fighter who can anticipate and move away from all the hand strikes, only to be felled by an unexpected, lethally quick front kick to the jaw. That sounds like something I’d like to watch.

3) Rounds Need to Be Longer:

As soon as someone is getting tired and dropping their hands to be open for counter-attack, BELL Rings! Opponents need to be able to abuse that tiredness and weakness. What if instead of twelve 3-minute rounds, we made, say, five 5-minute rounds? It would be a similar amount of total fight time, but then, we could find out how deep the fury and fiery the heart of the fighter really is. How deep can they dig to pull out that final onslaught of ferociousness to finish the fight? Have you ever wrestled with a friend about stealing the last cold beer in the cooler? You’re probably winded after those 30-seconds that felt like an hour. Imagine that times ten!

I know this is wishful thinking, but I think it could help restore the appeal of boxing. Hopefully, someone in a position to fix things takes these ideas seriously and saves boxing before it’s too late and we all start watching something else to satisfy the cruel savages of our baser selves.

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Italy vs. Korea: Living Life Abroad

I’ve been to 10 countries this year but spent the bulk in either Italy or Korea. I think somehow I’m fully American diluted with Italian and Korean blood now. My roots spread far. Both countries have their pros and cons, but which is the better place to live?

Food

Italy—Everyone knows Italian food. Pasta, pizza, risotto, cheese and focaccia are staples of the Italian diet and world famous. No food incites more opinionated responses than, “Where is the best pizza?”

Korea—Not many people know Korean food. Korean BBQ has gotten recognition lately, but the diversity of food is what’s most appealing to me. There are soups for every ailment, vegetables for “power,” plenty of soothing white rice and that famous marinated meat is never hard to find. Also, kimchi is a magical food.

*VERDICT: Italy. They win simply because inventing pizza is forever unbeatable; however, whichever country I’m in, I crave the others’ cooking.

Movies

Italy—Famous for La Dolce Vita. There’s plenty of existential 1960’s films of the absurdity of life. Lots of cigarette smoking by men in black suits. At the current cinema, everything is dubbed into Italian, presumably because it sounds great, but makes the film less cohesive and impossible for me to watch.

Korea—Famous for Oldboy. There’s rarely a happy ending in Korean movies. At the cinema, they sell numbered seats to ensure fairness, cheap snacks and Hollywood movies shown in English. Also, they have cozy DVD rooms—win.

*VERDICT: Korea. Unconventional movies, private DVD theaters, and cinema in original language (that includes Russian dialogue in the new Die Hard movie).

Music

Italy—Famous for opera, but Italian MTV is pretty boring. The street performers can be entertaining.

Korea—Famous for K-pop, PSY’s silliness and long-legged lady singers. Friday nights are for watching girl groups parade onstage on muted TV’s in a restaurant, bar or sauna.

*VERDICT: Italy. Although K-pop chicks are contained dynamite, to hear Andrea Bocelli sing “Con Te Partirò” gives me chills every time.

Nightlife

Italy—The night is dominated by hanging out, gesticulating with cigarette in one hand and wine glass in the other.

Korea—People here get bombed wasted constantly and then sing karaoke.

*VERDICT: Korea. Despite the blatant alcoholism, I love karaoke (noraebang/노래방).

Sports

Italy—Four World Cup titles is quite an achievement. Serie A is a quality soccer league. Kids play soccer amid ancient ruins and use cathedral walls as goals, which is cool.

Korea—Sports is only for those with enough talent to play in the Olympics. The other kids must focus on their studies! But, they offer decent competitions in soccer, baseball and basketball leagues.

*VERDICT: Even. South Korea beat the Azzurri in the 2002 World Cup. But neither country dominates this aspect of life.

Friendliness

Italy—Old people are nice and helpful. Young people can’t be bothered with showing you the direction to Piazza San Giacomo.

Korea—Old people (especially the old ladies) push you out of their way. Young people can’t wait to help or talk to you about anything.

*VERDICT: Even. This category is fluid and changes depending on the person.

Ease of Living

Italy—There’s a three-hour daily lunch break in the shops, two weeks off in August, many retail stores close at 19:00, lots of coffee breaks and everything is closed on Sunday. You’d think that is helpful, but more to workers and less to consumers.

Korea—The 24-hour 7-11’s, karaoke, saunas and restaurants work to any time schedule. The >50-hour workweek is stressing and daunting.

*VERDICT: Even. Korea works too much and Italy works too little. (**NOTE: Internet is a major factor in ease of living and Korea wins big time in that area, but not enough to overcome their habit of six 12 hour days per week.)

Price

Italy—Euro. (1$=1.3Euro) To eat well, you have to pay for a first and second plate plus a vegetable, and the recycled water bottle (usually around 50$).

Korea—Won. (1$=1,052Won) To eat well, you pay 10-15$ for meat, unlimited vegetables, rice and free refills of water. Sometimes you get “service”=free food.

*VERDICT: Korea. This one is an easy choice.

Travel Opportunities

Italy—You are within striking distance of mainland Europe via EUrail or Ryan Air as well as anywhere in the magical land of Italy.

Korea—Mountains and beaches surround you, Incheon Airport is the best in the world and many places in Korea are completely unexplored and unspoiled.

*VERDICT: Even. Would you rather explore Europe or Asia? Both are charming.

Public Transit

Italy—Buses and trains are often late and there are decent subway lines in Milan and Rome.

Korea—Seoul has the biggest and longest subway in the world and punctual everything.

*VERDICT: Korea. You are never more than three blocks away from the subway in Seoul.

Language

Italy—Italian is quite possibly the most beautiful language on Earth, and only gets cuter to hear little kids arguing in it.

Korea—Korean is the easiest Asian language to learn to read, but complicated to speak.

*VERDICT: Italy. Ciao vs. Annyeong Haseyo.

Architecture

Italy—This country understands it. Angels hanging off of corners, fountains, piazzas, statues, obelisks, strange faces in the marble walls, naked lady door-knockers, mythical creatures guarding entrances, and The Colosseum!

Korea—They didn’t go from bottom to the top in 50 years by worrying about decoration. They just built for efficiency. Things are changing now, with expanding green spaces, Gangnam’s renaissance and new art projects.

*VERDICT: Italy. The everyday beauty has a salubrious energy.

History

Italy—Roma, Venezia, Marco Polo, Columbus, Caesar, and gladiators: “All roads lead to Rome.”

Korea—They are stuck between two giants of Asia: China and Japan. Koreans were constantly in the middle of the wars of those two ancient enemies.

*VERDICT: Italy. Although Korean history is fascinating, Italian history is undeniably more important in global impact.

People/Dog Watching

Italy—Dogs enter restaurants here with impunity. There are dogs of all sizes and most people are not scared to pet them. Having a coffee at an outdoor café offers great fodder for playful banter about the passing hipsters, fashionistas and archetypical stereotypes.

Korea—Dogs are predominantly small and decorative. Kids/young girls sometimes shriek at the touch of a dog’s tongue. Couples in identical clothing, businessmen in shiny suits and cheap shoes, kids practicing taekwondo in the park or 20 ajumma’s with identical permed hair provide ample opportunity for pithy observations.

*VERDICT: Even. There’s more diversity and acceptance of dogs in Italy, but things are just a bit crazier in Korea.

Women

Italy—They are famous for being hot. But, too many smoke cigarettes, and they do it in an affective manner as if it’s making them seem more attractive. It isn’t. Milano and Roma are sure to find you exceptionally fashionable, skinny model types riding Vespa’s with long hair streaming behind them. EX: Sophia Loren in 1965.

Korea—They are becoming more famous for producing beautiful, forever-young actresses and models. Many are conservative with upper body exposure but adore a short skirt. Visit Gangnam on a summer night for a glimpse of the plastic surgery obsessed climate of Korea. Nevertheless, some understand that their striking beauty comes from embracing their traditional features. EX: Kim Yuna in 2014.

*VERDICT: Korea. What can I say? My girlfriend is Korean, and she’s beautiful.

The answer is: 5 for Italy; 5 for Korea; 5 All Even

Honestly, what did you expect? I actually went at this subject expecting Korea to win because that is where I’ve enjoyed living most. Yet, when you take it all into consideration, Italy has lots of positives too. These 15 subjects are some major indices of quality of life for me. I suppose I love both of these countries too much to decide. (Shh. It’s Korea.)

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Super Bowl Surprise

It’s my third Super Bowl in Korea. My third big game watched after work on Monday night like some kind of schnook eating spaghetti with ketchup and imitation Doritos, washing it down with a Ramen Cup. Football is the most American of all sports. Like most of us mutt based Americans, it’s a mixture of lots of different sports. But, it was always the sport that brings young boys desperate to hit each other a chance for semi-organized mayhem. Therefore, it was one of my favorites. Like soccer, all you needed was a big field and the requisite ball. But the big difference being in football you can smash your friends once the game starts.

My British and Canadian co-teachers didn’t understand my desire to go Internet, Facebook and cell phone blackout so as to prevent seeing the score before actually watching the game. Alexander was the prime mover of this little charade. “Oh, yeah, the Super Bowl. Broncos won in a nail-biter. You mean you didn’t watch it! Oh, sorry bro.” He was also the same mugg who robbed me of being unsurprised when the Eagles lost their playoff game in true Philadelphia fashion a month ago. It’s okay. I was expecting it being the only American at my school. I just kept my head down and put in my 9 hours.

I left a rather enjoyable day at school (my first day in two full weeks without feeling the effects of the nasty Korean flu) and headed to the chicken wing shop. I was surprised to hear the man spoke decent English. I put in my order for “red wings” and virtually sprinted down the street to pick up my cheese crusted pepperoni pizza. I had planned everything so that I could get the pizza just in time to run back down the street to pick up the wings as they were being individually and lovingly dusted with spicy sauce. Everything was coming up Milhouse!

The Jack Frost infused wind was biting my nose with the last breath of winter. BBQ meat, the ubiquitous perfume of Seoul, was wafting all around me in a warm smoky way. My pizza’s steam was heating my right hand and I had that anxious yet comfortable pre Super Bowl tension. Will Manning be able to handle the Seahawks nightmare secondary? Will “Beast Mode” come out running hard? Will Richard Sherman get a pick-6 to silence the haters? Will the big running attack of Denver bust up the Seattle D-line? Whatever happens, I’m ready because I don’t know and surprise is the element of sports that I crave. The revelation of winning is always surpassed by HOW they win. In every game, there is a winner and loser, but what will happen before the final buzzer?

So, my natural high of anticipation carried me, slightly panting, into Kyochon Chicken, a little hole in the wall delivery place to pick up my overpriced, but satisfactory wings. I had managed to avoid the KBS news broadcast in the pizza place and waited outside until the ajumma walked out my pie with a mixed smile of confusion and generosity. I had made it the whole day not looking at a computer or a cell phone and was almost home. I had 20 wings being put into a box, a pizza, chocolate, corn chips, an apple and beer. The game was queued up on the website and everything was ready to go. It’s a feeling American Football fans only get once a year. It takes patience to recreate it in a foreign land. I handed my card to the young man who was, as some are wont to do, eager to practice English. He said, “Hey, Shehawkuh! Football. Shehawkuhs win! Right?”

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“I went to a fight the other night, and a hockey game broke out.” –Rodney Dangerfield

            In the late spring, as cherry blossoms fall, piling into fragrant fluffs of street detritus, and the Celsius rises, thoughts wander into the casual, carefree realm of summer loving, beach time and sticky nights with sweating mugs of cold beer. Some of us are preparing holidays among tranquil, azure blue waters and overpriced fusion food. College kids are looking for pointless summer jobs, teachers are counting the days until finals, and baby ducks follow mama in that amazingly cute waddle toward the pond. That pond, only 6 months ago, was frozen in a sheet of glass from previous nights of sub zero temperatures. And in those brief moments, those fleeting moments of winter daylight, those short-lived days before the snow covers the ice, young children of the north live out hockey fantasies.

            I remember my pond. It was actually a canal. It was dug over a century ago by horses, mules and plows to aid river traffic along the Schuylkill River. It’s only four feet deep and 20 feet wide, but miles long. I remember the crunch as I stepped onto the ice and made first tracks. I remember pickup games at dusk with bruised shinbones. I remember skating in a seemingly endless straight line with my Dad, passing the puck back and forth. I remember the bitter wind cutting through my scarf. I remember the smoke rising from tiny nearby chimneys and the smell of frost mixed with dinner. I remember seeing little, cold fish swimming below the clear ice. I remember practicing slap shots on a brick wall. Free ice time is a beautiful thing.

            I also remember my high school days playing in front of my alcohol-lubricated friends on Friday nights. We would come out to a Guns N’ Roses song and circle the ice anticipating a win. It was a great feeling. I was just a skinny kid who wanted to smash people, but usually ended up on the losing end. We were a great team and used to enact the charity rule of stopping the game when winning by more than ten goals quite often. We made it to the final game played in the Philadelphia Flyers home arena. It was essentially empty, but the expansiveness was palpable. I knew I was skating on the same ice as those heroes of Philly­—the Broad Street Bullies, the Legion of Doom and Ronnie Hextall. I didn’t play too much, but I did have one open shot but it sailed wide of the net, much like Emilio Estevez’ in The Mighty Ducks. We lost by one goal. It doesn’t haunt me as much as, say, Uncle Rico’s 1982 state championship game, but alas, sports provide heartbreak as well as joy.

            Ice hockey is the basketball of the frozen north. Granted, there’s more equipment. You need a stick, skates, gloves, puck and ice, but it’s the favored game of winter for anyone without the finesse required for B-ball. I hate to compare basketball to hockey, but they are the two major winter sports. One difference, as referenced above, is that hockey isn’t only an indoor sport in the winter months. Basketball has the high scoring, fancy dribbling and slam-dunks. Hockey has 100mph slap shots, delicate stickhandling and one-timers.

            I understand people who enjoy round ball and other athletic endeavors, but it’s not a debate for me. Hockey is the best sport. And, don’t get me wrong; I love all sports, but none more than playing with the puck. We’re talking about the fastest human propelled sport. It’s got sticks and blades, slashing and roughing, tripping and hooking. It’s a sport that has the tiniest “ball” that must get into the tiniest net guarded by the goaltender with the biggest pads. Fighting is allowed and sometimes encouraged. It takes shit talking out of the equation. Drop the gloves if you got a problem. Sure, Ray Lewis is a scary man and talks a big, nasty game, but wouldn’t you like to see that giant offensive tackle grip him up and just put a fist through his face once? Or maybe if someone hits Tom Brady too late and the small, street-tough running back just jacks up that free safety. And wouldn’t you enjoy seeing LeBron give Kobe a beat down; or vice versa? Men can handle things like gentlemen instead of running their big mouths with juvenile pushing. You don’t insult someone in a bar and hide behind the helmet or the referee of life. It’s real. It’s too real sometimes. Do you know any sport where people have cut their carotid artery during a game? Well, it happened twice in hockey. The videos are scary. Do you know any sport where every team member grows a beard during the playoffs? It happens in hockey, and by June, it’s a rink full of grizzled, sometimes toothless, battered men playing for pride and that all too beautiful trophy—the Stanley Cup. It’s the oldest trophy of the four major sports, having been commissioned in 1892 by Lord Stanley, a viceroy of the Queen of England.

            In soccer, a good goalie can change a game; in hockey, a good goalie can dominate a game. Some may complain this is a check against the sport that one person can take over a game, but if you have watched some of the clinics put on by previous Cup winners, you might be able to appreciate their cheetah hand speed and eagle eye awareness.

            This playoff season was really exciting to me. It was a championship of two of the Original 6 hockey teams. Both teams played with guts, passion and tenacity. Patrice Bergeron played the last game with a punctured lung, broken ribs and a separated shoulder. Andrew Shaw took a puck to the face and bled through his scabs the entirety of the game. It’s hard to debate about hockey players’ toughness. They are well known for facial lesions, missing teeth and great hair. Although hockey has changed from the gentleman’s game of straight bladed sticks and helmet-less goalies into the deliriously fast paced game of 200-pound agile behemoths, it still possesses the grit and glory of the old days. “Old-time hockey.”

            Before each game of the Finals, I got goose bumps as they sang the national anthem. But, I wondered, since only a handful of players are American, do they even enjoy that spectacle of song, or do they just hum AC/DC in their head until it’s over? That’s another thing. Hockey is a worldwide sport. The finals between Boston and Chicago had seven different countries represented. And nobody can deny the beauty of a good hockey name: Johnny Boychuk, Niklas Kjalmarsson, Jaromir Jagr, Zdeno Chara, or the great old names of: Jeff Beukeboom, Zarley Zalapski, Darius Kasparitus or Miroslav Satan. Whether it be the honeyed tone of a good Quebecois surname like: Lafleur or Lemieux, or the repeated consonants of the Czech Republic like: Roman Hamrlik, or the loveliness of sounding Russian just by saying the names: Alexander Ovechkin or Vladimir Konstantinov, hockey fans enjoy the linguistic allure of these possible line combinations.

            Hockey has raised me. Hockey was my opportunity to spend time with friends, exercise, hit people without getting in trouble, learn dedication through practice and feel the thrill of putting the puck in the back of the net. Hockey also gave me cherished memories with my father. Early mornings at a freezing rink; greasy meals after a game; locker rooms laughs; watching the Flyers on winter evenings with a glowing fire; or just talking about playing as we’d drive in “the truck” are things I remember well. Men need sports.

Steroids Are The Future

It’s old news now that Lance Armstrong, the promoter of the LiveStrong campaign, the man who won a grueling 2,000 mile bicycle race 7 times in a row, lost a testicle to cancer, and still had the balls to leave the mother of his children who supported him after the cancer treatments to get together with Sheryl “Horse-face” Crow, is a lying, doping, remorseless man. He repeated ad nauseum about how he was racing clean and didn’t need any performance enhancing drugs (PED’s). Then, he told Oprah, who told us, that he did in fact use them. It reminds me of Bill Clinton with his infamous “that woman” speech. Both should have just been honest, but we know perjuring yourself usually seems the better option until you’ve been caught. I was let down because I really believed he was the special kind of human with supreme natural abilities. It led me to wonder, as a professional, are the natural abilities the most important part of the game?

Recently, I’ve been thinking about PED’s and I don’t think they are of that much assistance to athletes in all sports. Also, I think their negative effects are more self-inflicted than upon society. The arguments I’ve heard during the baseball steroid trials are about setting a good example for the young athletes, and the sanctity of sports. What a bunch of crap! Hardly any athlete is a good example for kids. They always go to the team who offers the most money, they rarely graduate college, and they are sometimes arrested for murder, manslaughter, DWI, assault, possession, drug dealing and sometimes rape. No, not all athletes fit this bill, but not all athletes use PED’s. Athletes are modern gladiators, not role models. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t seen as role models. No matter how bad their behavior may be, as long as they win, they will inspire youngsters’ sporting fantasies. Remember in the Kirk Douglas movie, when all the men stood up and exclaimed, “I’m Spartacus!” I bet at the Staples Center, on a random Friday night, if the lights went out, all the guys would rise and scream, “I’m Kobe Bryant!” Steroids won’t help Kobe put the perfect touch on a game winning 3-pointer. Steroids won’t help Tom Brady put the delicate arch on a fade route to the corner of the end zone. Steroids couldn’t have helped Barry Bonds see the spin on an 80mph curveball or even to put the bat in the right place to hit a homerun. Steroids won’t help soccer or hockey goalies’ agility in stopping a sudden shot. From what I understand about steroids, they help in the building of muscles and also in the turnaround or the rebuilding phase. So, yes, it helps muscles, which athletes use. But it doesn’t help passion, agility, reaction time, or game knowledge.  

Alex Rodriguez said that his huge contract with the Texas Rangers back in 2001 made him feel very pressured to play at a high level, so he starting juicing. He should feel pressure; a big salary obliges effort and results. If we are paying top dollar to watch sports, we want our athletes to be the best they can be. So combining the muscle magnification of steroids with their own innate abilities, we can be treated to quite a spectacle of sport. But, NFL is cutting back on big hits, NHL is trying to stop concussive hits, MLB is testing for steroids, and the NBA made a one year in college before drafting to stop high school hopefuls. It’s a nanny state for sports. It’s good to prevent career ending injuries, and perhaps with bigger, stronger, juiced up dudes playing, there might be more devastating hits. Why are we always worried about the children? There will still be delusional hopefuls, dreaming of glory, injecting themselves and ruining their own lives despite our best efforts to prevent that behavior. As the amount of legal PED’s grows, so will the players and concurrently will the concussions and homeruns grow. I know that athletes are people too, but we, as paying spectators, deserve to see their best, which is sometimes augmented by PED’s.

Now, back to Lance Armstrong. Riding a bicycle is something everyone can do, not like throwing a 50-yard spiral accurately or dribbling a sick crossover or hitting fastballs. In competitive riding, your performance is decided by both your conditioning and determination. Maybe, with a winning attitude and the right cocktail of enhancers, sport riding will get more competitive, instead of the guy who knows how to best dilute his urine winning 7 years in a row. Armstrong was certainly given an edge by his use of drugs. BUT, what if all the others were on the same drugs? If the field were level, then we could be sure it was just his strong will and perhaps his knowledge of wind currents in the Loire Valley that gave him the victory. My idea is let all drugs be legal in all non-contact sports. So, football, hockey, rugby, lacrosse etc.—sorry, stay clean. But finesse/normal sports, like basketball, baseball, soccer, car racing, riding, etc., let the ‘roids fly. Steve Nash will not be better because he puts on 100 pounds of muscle. It’s science, we made something that helps us and are scared to use it. Oh, Viagra, no, I want to be aroused naturally. Xanax, no, I want to keep my panic attacks refreshingly uncontrollable and unpredictable. I think one day, we will see leagues full of human gorillas competing. Then, sporting events will be like going to the zoo, except all the animals will be active, instead of sitting on logs, licking each other and picking at orifices.

Greatness Incarnate

To be truly dominant in your sport must be an incredible feeling. The Jordan’s, Gretzky’s, Jeter’s and Montana’s of the sporting world must feel great looking back at their legacy of accomplishments and excellence. Although they were only one (arguably the largest one) member of a team sport, they are known as some of the best in their game. They were respectful, talented leaders and won several championships to solidify their winning reputation. No matter what happens off the field to them, they will always have their playing record to shut down any personality vs. success arguments.

America loves the underdogs, but relishes the dynasties. We have never had kings or queens and therefore celebrities have become our royalty. Some may be the actors or politicians that appear larger than life with their gifts of speech or propriety, but athletes seem to be the most heralded due to their tangible and obvious skills inducing our collective envy. Few boys grow up dreaming of success in the political arena. Those that do most certainly live out Thoreau’s adage of life in quiet desperation. For what can be more desperate than the ingratiating compliance of politics. Many more envision hitting the 9th inning home run or throwing the 2-minute drill bomb pass. Sports create a world where fantasy becomes reality. Those same dreams may not become fully realized unless you consider the reason why we watch those sports—to imagine we are the ones in the athlete’s shoes.

We watch and cheer for our home team. We watch and cheer for our favorite players, smiling with them as the confetti falls over the field while they thank God and pick up their tiny offspring in a climactic crescendo of completion.

Recently, we saw two of the most dominant athletes of the modern era in individual sports compete. Roger Federer and Anderson Silva had titles on the line this weekend. Roger reclaimed the number 1 seed and his 7th Wimbledon championship in four sets after losing the first to a charged up Andy Murray. Silva defended his belt for the 10th consecutive time by shoving his fists and knees into the bile-spewing mouth of Chael Sonnen before a referee stoppage in the 2nd round. Both matches, I felt, were overhyped and anti-climactic, seeing as how they were viewed as a chance for a changing of the guard for a new champion. The fact is, they are the best and they showed it. There will come a time when they will lose or simply retire on top, cascading away into the unimaginable, shadowy realm of distinction that us mortals only imagine. There will come a new batch of silver armed, fuzzy green ball whackers or pugnacious pugilists, and they will inevitably be compared to those who came before them. But until then, we have our champions. Federer and Silva are never to be underestimated and never to be equaled. All things are debatable, but can you argue with the results? The Swiss master has 17 Grand Slam wins and a myriad of other records. The Brazilian spider has never lost in the octagon. They are the pure essence of domination and we were all privy to their reign.

I have enjoyed watching the perfectly placed forehands of Federer right down the line, as well as the perfectly placed fists of Silva to his opponents’ foreheads. It’s a great pleasure to see such talent on display. It’s a testament to their hard work and a lifetime of refining ones talent. We can all aspire to their greatness in our own professions. I like to think of myself as giving backhands of knowledge and flying knees of wisdom to the younglings’ domepieces. But in all probability, they’re more like misplaced lobs and sloppy jabs of education. Nevertheless, we beat on, boats against the current.