I’m not Italian, I’m not in the mob, and I’m not a hard ass. But when James Gandolfini died from an apparent heart attack in Italy on Wednesday, I feel like a part of me died as well.
For six seasons Gandolfini played Tony Soprano, perhaps the toughest guy to ever grace the small screen. Yet what made him just as memorable was how he had to deal with problems outside of the family business that most of us can relate to. You know, like an uncle with dementia, fantasies about your therapist, and a wife who won’t let you bet on the fucking Jets.
So, to honor Gandolfini, The DUD has come up with this short list of the closest things the sports world has to Tony Soprano:
James Harrison – LB, Cincinnati Bengals
How tough is James Harrison? After Roger Goodell fined him over $200,000 in 2010 and 2011 for numerous vicious hits that knocked out a few receivers and quarterbacks, he informed the entire league that he was going to be tackling low from there on out. But even that couldn’t keep him from injuring opposing players, as the destroyed Eric Decker’s knee in a playoff loss to Jesus Christ and the Denver Broncos…
Dustin Pedroia – 2B, Boston Red Sox
After breaking his foot in 2010, Dustin Pedroia refused to just sit and let it heal. According to his Wikipedia page, he was so concerned about his fielding skills diminishing, that he would practice taking ground balls from his knees. Last year, he told turd manager Bobby Valentine through the media to go fuck himself. This season, Pedroia completely tore his UCL ligament in his thumb on Opening Day, yet he has played in every game except one. Even with the injury, Pedroia is hitting .312 with an OPB of .396, 4 home runs, 40 RBI, 46 runs scored, and 10 stolen bases…
Kobe Bryant – SG, Los Angeles Lakers
According to a 2011-12 survey of NBA general managers, just over 32% of them said the toughest player in the NBA was Kobe Bryant. We wouldn’t know because we don’t watch fixed sports. But when the next highest player on the list was Rajon Rondo at just 10.7%, we’ll take their word for it. All we know is that it sure as shit isn’t Andrew Bogut…
Zdeno Chara – D, Boston Bruins
Look at the size of this fucking guy. The Hockey News and Yahoo! Sports named Zdeno Chara the toughest player in the NHL last month even though at that time he had only been in 54 fights in 1,055 career games, including one in which he broke an opposing player’s jaw. But when you’re 6-foot-9 and 255 pounds, you don’t have to fight to get you’re point across. Especially when every player in the league has seen video of you do this:
This guy, Chris Shad, nails it. It is hard being a fan of this team. But, like my father reminds me, as hard as it is to be a fan of the Twins, at least we aren’t fans of the Cubs..
Article by Chris Shad:
The Minnesota Twins have a loyal fan base. As one of Major League Baseball’s small-market franchises, they’ve done everything imaginable to ensure they have a competitive team.
Five division championships in the past 11 seasons doesn’t do anything to hurt that reputation, and for fans of other small-market teams, the Twins are the model of what their favorite team could become.
But wanting to become a Twins fan is a case of being careful what you wish for.
While the success of the 2000s and two World Series championships look nice, there are several reasons why a level of tolerance that needs to be reached in order to cheer for MLB’s little engine that could.
1. The recent run of success has given several Twins fans a sense of entitlement.
Prior to the 2001 season, the Twins hadn’t seen much success as a franchise. They had won two World Series championships, but, as a 14-year-old at the time, I had become accustomed to 90-loss seasons and high draft picks such as B.J. Garbe and Adam Johnsonthat had never worked out.
Twins hats popped up everywhere, and people who hadn’t watched a game since the Twins defeated the Atlanta Braves in the 1991 World Series started dusting off their Kirby Puckett jerseys and marching to the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome to see what all the fuss was about.
It would be a decade-long stretch for the Twins that goes down as the most successful in franchise history, as they won five division championships and gave Twins fans everywhere a false sense of entitlement.
Suddenly, Twins fans everywhere became angered that star closer Joe Nathan could shut down the weak lineups of the American League Central but not the New York Yankees.
Then, they started pointing the finger at catcher Joe Mauer because he wasn’t hitting well over .400 and therefore wasn’t worth his $23 million a year salary.
And that was when the Twins were winning the division.
The Twins would take a fall from grace after 2010 and lose 195 games over the next two seasons. Mauer didn’t help his case by missing half the 2011 season with bi-lateral leg weakness, and suddenly the torches and pitch forks were out in Twins Territory.
They pleaded with Terry Ryan to do something, and became offended when other teams refused to take their garbage. Top free agents also spurned them because they had finished in the basement of the AL Central the past two seasons.
Still, some asked, “How dare they?” as the Twins are still an elite organization in their eyes despite the fact they haven’t won a playoff game since 2004.
As a loyal fan from the days where I just wanted to see Kirby Puckett come to the plate in a half-empty Metrodome, I cringe when I hear a spoiled Twins fan chew out Mauer for being injury prone despite playing in a career-high 147 games last season.
I guess to the victors, go the spoiled.
2. The Twins believe that winning the American League Central is like winning the World Series.
Fans of every organization in MLB dream of winning a World Series. The thrill of October is like nothing else when your team is involved, and for Twins fans they’ve seen plenty of postseason baseball.
It just hasn’t been of the quality variety.
That’s because the Twins have been obsessed with winning the division rather than focusing on a deep run into the playoffs.
For years, the Twins have looked impressive in their handling of the division, only to come unglued once they run into the New York Yankees in the American League Divisional Series.
A lot of that has to do with the handling of the team by manager Ron Gardenhire. When the Twins clinch the division, the team goes into shutdown mode where everyone is “emotionally drained.”
To counter that, Gardenhire lets his starters sit on the bench for several games at a time to make sure everybody is ready for the big postseason series ahead.
The end result is a three-game sweep.
Perhaps one more playoff run will change their thinking, but the Twins are a team that hears Queen’sWe Are The Champions a little bit differently than everybody else…
We are the American League Central Division Champions, my friend.
And we’ll keep on fighting until we win the division.
We are the American League Central Division Champions.
We are the American Leage Central Division Champions.
No time for losers, cause we are the American League Central Division Champions…of the world!
3. The Twins never keep elite talent.
Jerseys are expensive. Going to the ballpark to shell out $125 for a replica Johan Santana jersey was one of the biggest clothing investments of my life, but I figured it would be worth it because he was a key piece to the Twins’ success.
However, the marriage between the Twins and their last true ace went sour just a year later, and next thing I knew Santana was a member of the New York Mets.
That’s when I learned that nobody stays around in Minnesota for long.
Since the Twins came back from the baseball dead in 2001, the Twins have grown their own talent and watched them walk out the door to become key staples for other teams.
The Twins treat their players like high-priced chips at a poker table. The organization claims that their the Kenny Rogers of baseball, knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em but in a lot of cases their moves backfire.
There was the decision to trade J.J. Hardy after one ineffective season because former general manager Bill Smith thought Tsuyoshi Nishioka was a better bet to hold down shortstop.
There was the other decision to let Torii Hunter walk because they thought at the end of a five-year contract, he’d be a shell of himself at 36 (he’s currently hitting .361 for the Detroit Tigers after a productive tenure with the Los Angeles Angels).
It’s a trend that’s likely to continue with 2006 American League MVP Justin Morneau on the trading block, and super prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton rising through the system.
Odds are that the front office will deem Buxton and Sano too expensive to keep around, and trade them for a bunch of prospects that will likely flame out like the trade that sent Santana to the Mets.
4. The Twins always play for the future instead of going all-in.
Once every year, you see a team go all-in on a player because they think that it’s the final piece to building a championship roster.
Unfortunately, that team never seems to be the Twins.
Instead of realizing their time is now, the Twins always believe that their time is two or three seasons down the road.
As they let quality players walk out the door for greener pastures, the belief is that the younger players in the organization are ready to step in and seamlessly fill in their spot.
That’s why you never see the Twins step up and offer a massive contract to Zack Grienke even though their starting rotation looked worse than your beer league softball team.
It’s also why you’ll never see them offer a pair of top prospects to get an established second or third baseman rather than praying that Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe will hit above .230.
This aspect becomes extremely frustrating when the Twins are in the mix to be something more than American League Central division champions of the world, and sit on their hands while a fellow contender swoops in and picks them up for an affordable price.
5. The Pohlad family is incredibly cheap.
When the Twins came to Minnesota in the spring of 1961, they were owned by Calvin Griffith. He was a man that liked to value a dollar, and it resulted in several teams that were ok, but not World Series contenders during the early years of the franchise.
The Griffith era lasted throughout the 60s and 70s before Carl Pohlad stepped in and bought the team in 1984. With a large bank account, some could have guessed that some of these star players would be kept and the franchise would rise to baseball’s elite.
That didn’t happen.
While the Pohlad era netted two World Series championships in 1987 and 1991, the era was also known for getting rid of key players and refusing to cave into the increasing price of contract demands around MLB.
He also threatened the Twin Cities by agreeing to move the team to North Carolina in an effort to get a new stadium. When that didn’t work, Pohlad decided that the next best thing was to eliminate the team completely and pad his already fat wallet by another $150 million.
Of course, neither of those ploys worked and the financing for what would be known as Target Field was finalized in May 2006.
Pohlad would never see the new crown jewel of Minneapolis (he died in 2009), but his children have picked up right where their father left off, jacking up ticket prices with the arrival of Target Field in 2010 and dropping payroll every year after.
There have been exceptions with the Twins giving catcher Joe Mauer one of the richest contracts in baseball history, but overall the Pohlads have refused to foot the bill for building a contending franchise.
Maybe they’re just waiting for the future so they can sell them off again, and thus goes the cycle of being a Twins fan.
Chris Schad is a lifelong Twins follower that has spent a majority of his life cheering them on through the dark ’90s and success of five American League Central championships in the 2000s. His work has been published on Bleacher Report.
Imade a deal with myself a long time ago: My column needed to capture the things I discuss with my friends. Last week, I realized that wasn’t totally happening anymore. Something of a disconnect had emerged between my private conversations and the things I wrote for Grantland/ESPN. In essence, I had turned into two people. There’s Sports Fan Me, and there’s ESPN Me.
Sports Fan Me is candid, jaded, suspicious of everyone. Sports Fan Me repeatedly gets involved in arguments and e-mail chains centered on the question, “Do you think he’s cheating?” Sports Fan Me has Googled athletes’ heads and jawlines, studied their sizes, then mailed before/after pictures to friends with the subject heading, “CHECK THIS OUT.” Sports Fan Me has learned to trust his inner shit detector, to swiftly question any accomplishment that seems extraordinary or superhuman. Sports Fan Me hates that he feels this way, but he does, and there’s just no way around it.
ESPN Me sticks his head in the sand and doesn’t say anything.
ESPN Me occasionally pushes narratives that he doesn’t totally believe in.
ESPN Me didn’t have the balls to run two e-mails that you’re about to read. They nearly landed in each of my last four mailbags. Each time, I pulled both e-mails (and my responses) from those columns at the last minute.
E-mail no. 1 (from David B. in Concord, North Carolina): “Why isn’t anyone questioning Ray Lewis’s miraculous recovery from a torn triceps muscle? At age 37, not only did he recover in 10 weeks from an injury that usually takes 6 months minimum for recovery, but, upon returning, he played at a higher level than before he was injured. Are sports ‘journalists’ incapable of learning from their own mistakes (we JUST HAD both the Baseball HOF vote and Lance admitting to steroid use), or is the sport just bigger than the truth?”
E-mail no. 2 (from Ben Miller in Fort Worth, Texas): “Instead of Beyonce, should we change the Super Bowl halftime show to just Adrian Peterson pissing in a cup at midfield? You just talked about how dumb we all look in hindsight when these super human baseball stars were shattering age-old records. Peterson nearly broke a 28 year old record in one of the most physically-demanding positions in sports less than 12 months after tearing his ACL & MCL!!! Respect the hell out of the guy and love his extreme work ethic, but think about McGwire’s 70. Now think about it happening less than 12 months after tearing a pec. We probably call BS even back then at that point. You may want to take a cold shower and then mention it in a column just in case.”
Sports Fan Me spent most of November and December debating the Lewis/Peterson topics with friends and coworkers, so Sports Fan Me wanted to run those e-mails. ESPN Me overruled him, believing it was unfair to speculate without any real proof … even though ongoing speculation has become as big a part of sports fandom as purchasing tickets or buying a replica jersey. That’s the disconnect.
Before those Miami New Times/Sports Illustrated bombshells dropped this week and we started joking about deer-antler spray, I would have wagered anything that God didn’t miraculously heal Ray Lewis’s torn tricep. I never actually wrote this. Alluded to it, danced around it, joked about it … just never actually came out and wrote it. I stayed away from Peterson jokes for a different reason: His historic comeback (and historically great season) seemed conceivable. All Day might be a freak of nature, and if you take Dr. James Andrews at his word, the inside of Peterson’s knee resembled a newborn baby’s knee even after six NFL seasons. Watching Peterson regain his old form wasn’t any more eye-opening than, say, Peyton Manning regaining his old form at age 36 after four neck surgeries.
Then again, I like Adrian Peterson. I thought watching him carry footballs was just about the most exciting thing that happened last year. I liked living in something of a sports-movie fantasy world in which our hero gets maimed, defies the odds, and returns better than ever (and sooner than we ever imagined). I wanted to believe in the notion that someone could be noticeably better at playing running back than anyone else. I loved the thought of telling my grandkids someday, “Yes, I was there for Adrian Peterson.”
Will I look back at Peterson’s remarkable season someday and say, “God, how did we NOT know? How stupid were we?” I say no.
But I don’t know for sure. And that’s the problem. There is no such thing as “the benefit of the doubt” anymore. Not in sports. Too many people took advantage. All the benefits are gone.
Afew weeks ago, we finished a Baseball Hall of Fame voting process in whichnobody was selected. Not a single guy. Keep in mind, the following stars were eligible: one of the greatest outfielders ever, one of the greatest starting pitchers ever, two of the most imposing sluggers ever, one of the greatest offensive first basemen ever, the single greatest offensive catcher ever, a member of the 500–home run club, and someone who reached base more than anyone in history except for 17 players. None of them made it to Cooperstown. Five were shunned because we were getting back at them — they cheated, they burned us, they let us down. Two were bypassed because of circumstantial evidence — we were pretty sure they cheated, and since they never defended themselves that passionately, they were out. The last guy missed out because of our anger toward the other seven guys, and because a few-dozen holier-than-thou baseball writers keep stubbornly protecting a fantasy world that no longer exists.
Really, those snubs were driven by our residual guilt about what we didn’t do during baseball’s steroid boom. We ignored their swollen noggins and rippling biceps. We weren’t fazed by seemingly inexplicable surges in production, or even something as fundamentally perplexing as a 37-year-old doubles hitter suddenly hitting 50-plus homers. We didn’t just look the other way; we threw heavy burlap bags over our heads and taped our eyeballs shut. And because we never stepped up, those enterprising dickheads bastardized baseball and ruined one of its most sacred qualities: the wholly unique way that eight generations of players relate to one another through statistics and records. Here, look.
That list is dead. It means nothing. McGwire’s generation made it fundamentally impossible to put power numbers into context for the rest of eternity, basically. And they did more damage than that. This past Christmas Eve, my son and daughter made Santa cookies, wrote him a letter, even left four carrots for his reindeer. As we were putting them to bed, I remember thinking, Man, I wish they could always stay like this. And by “this,” I really meant, I wish they could always just blindly believe in things being true despite mounting evidence against them. For whatever reason, that made me think of Lance Armstrong. Was there even a difference? Our kids have Santa; we have Lance and Barry and A-Rod and everyone else.
When Lance clinched the ESPY for “Most Pompous and Unapologetic Asshole” on Oprah’s show a few weeks ago, everyone ripped him to shreds, because that’s the pattern for us. The whole “innocent until proven guilty” mind-set will always be our default … until you burn us. If you burn us? Then, and only then, do we flip out. Nixon lied about Watergate; we never forgave him. Clinton lied about Lewinsky; we didn’t forgive him for years and years. Countless baseball stars lied about cheating; we barricaded them from the Hall of Fame. Lance lied about absolutely everything; we turned him from a do-good hero into a defensive pariah. We hate people who lie to our faces.
But when you keep your head down and keep cheating? That’s a little tougher. We’re culpable in this respect: We have a tendency to look the other way as long as those great games and great moments keep coming. And it’s not just with performance enhancers.
We look the other way when college basketball coaches pretend to care about academics as they’re riding one-and-done players to titles, or when those same coaches gush about “the bond between me and those kids” and then defecate on it by jumping to another school for a little more money.
We look the other way when hardcore evidence emerges that the NCAA is just as corrupt and dishonest as some of the shadier coaches it’s policing.
We look the other way when FIFA accepts bribes for World Cup bids, or when it turns out the NFL never really cared about player safety until there was a massive concussion lawsuit coming.
We look the other way when baseball teams win World Series even though they probably wouldn’t have made the playoffs without significant help from steroids cheats.
We look the other way when NFL players are allowed to create any excuse they want for a four-game drug suspension (usually Adderall), or when David Stern tells a reporter that he doesn’t see how PEDs would help NBA players (yeah, right).
We look the other way as the NBA keeps its own little Santa Claus streak going: Of all the running-and-jumping sports that feature world-class athletes competing at the highest level, only the NBA hasn’t had a single star get nailed for performance enhancers … you know, because there’s no way hundreds of overcompetitive stars with massive egos would ever cheat to gain an edge with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.
We look the other way when the MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL players associations keep blocking blood testing in their respective sports (MLB finally started blood testing for the 2013 season), even though doctors keep telling us, “Hey, if we can have regular blood samples, it’s a thousand times easier to catch cheaters.”
My favorite recent look-the-other-way example: Juan Manuel Marquez couldn’t knock down Manny Pacquiao for 36 solid rounds over three of their fights. Before their third fight, the 39-year-old Marquez aligned himself with a disgraced strength-and-conditioning coach named Angel Heredia (Google his name and PEDs; it’s a fun 10 minutes), arrived in Vegas so ripped that he weighed in four pounds under the 147-pound limit, knocked Pacquiao down early with a vicious power punch, then coldcocked him a few rounds later with one of the single greatest knockout punches ever thrown. What did we do? We bought the fight, gathered in our living rooms. We oohed and aahed, tweeted our disbelief and forwarded the YouTube clip around. And when Marquez passed the bogus post-fight drug test — for the record, Keith Richards in 1978 after a night at Studio 54 could pass one of boxing’s drug tests — everyone let the moment go.
Know this: Every boxing fan I know believes that Marquez enhanced his chances that night. But that’s the thing: Our private conversations have nothing in common with public conversations, not just in sports, but with everything. If you’re a public figure who says something offensive, we’re going to rake you over the coals until you apologize … but if you make that same offensive comment under the protection of anonymity, whether it’s on YouTube’s comment section, Reddit, a message board or whatever, that’s totally acceptable. What are we? Where are we? Do we even know anymore? In Chuck Klosterman’s superb Grantland piece about Royce White this week, the embattled Rocket made a fascinating point about social media:
As much as we want to think that these are just people behind computer screens, those people are living next door to you. They are people behind computer screens in schools. In hospitals. Working in Washington, D.C. These are real people. How many times does this stuff have to happen before we admit something really disturbing is going on here? I think one person tweeting “Fuck you, go kill yourself” is disturbing. But when you get into the hundreds of those tweets? The thousands of those tweets? I see a lot of people out there with really volatile mental disorders that are not getting help. Because I go to their own Twitter pages, and I can see they’re not just sending those messages to me. They’re sending them to a bunch of people.
And that’s where it gets messy. Anyone with a public forum should feel a certain responsibility to the greater good, whether you have a blog, a column, a podcast, a radio show or a steady TV gig. Of the myriad reasons why people have been bitching against ESPN lately, some are overblown or agenda-ridden, some are semi-legitimate, and some are undeniably legitimate. A good example: Rob Parker, who recklessly represented the alleged feelings of a segment of the African American community toward Robert Griffin III. Since he failed to do so thoughtfully or accurately, the ensuing backlash was speedy and deserved. He squandered that First Take pulpit, and when ESPN fired him, nobody was surprised. But what if that same show contained an exchange like this?
Talking Head No. 1: “Look, we’ve watched so many athletes let us down by cheating these past two decades, it’s become impossible for me to digest Peterson’s comeback or Lewis’s comeback without wondering if they bent the rules.”
Talking Head No.2: “You’re saying they don’t pass the smell test for you?”
Talking Head No. 1: “Exactly. I’m saying that athlete PED profiling has become part of following sports. And it’s something we should be allowed to talk about on this show.”
Talking Head No. 2 [suddenly scared]: “What do you mean?”
Talking Head No. 1: “I mean, we should debate whether guys are cheating in the same way we should debate whether they should be traded, or whether they’re playing well enough, or whatever. You and I just talked in the green room about Lewis and whether he was cheating, remember?”
Talking Head No. 2 [shitting a brick]: “I thought we were off the record.”
Talking Head No. 1: “No, screw that — let’s talk about this. Is it fair to someone like Peterson to bring it up? I say yes. I say he’s a professional athlete, living in a world in which dozens and dozens of guys either cheat and get caught or cheat and don’t get caught, playing a sport with lax drug-testing rules. THAT’S PART OF SPORTS NOW! We pretend it isn’t, but it is. What are we hiding from? Who are we protecting? What’s the difference between wondering if Peterson had help with his comeback and wondering if he’s going to break Dickerson’s record? Either way, we’re just speculating, right? Well, that’s what we do! That’s the whole point of this show! WE SPECULATE ON STUFF!!!!!!!”
Now, how would you have felt had you watched that exchange unfold on TV?
Your first thought: This is great TV.
Your second thought: That guy’s getting fired. And fast.
Your third thought: This YouTube clip will have 100 million page views in three days.
Your fourth thought (about 10 minutes later): You know, that guy made some good points.
Think about that phrase again. Hasn’t it become an essential part of following sports? Why won’t we admit it? When you add up the names of everyone who either (a) definitely cheated or (b) almost definitely cheated, it’s a “Who’s Who” of influential athletes. You could cram them into their own Hall of Fame. Because of that, there’s been residual damage … leading to PED profiling … leading to my aforementioned disconnect. When any athlete recovers from any injury well ahead of the expected time, deep down, we wonder. When any athlete defies the aging process in a seemingly supernatural way, deep down, we’re suspicious. When any superstar reaches a level that doesn’t seem athletically realistic, deep down, we’re hoping he didn’t cheat to get there.
I had planned on writing about PED profiling in my deleted mailbag answer about Peterson, if only because it’s so unfair that certain athletes (say, Marquez and A-Rod) make it impossible for something like Peterson’s absolutely incredible comeback to happen without people wondering, “Hmmmmmmmm.” We’ve been burned too many times by the words “absolutely incredible.” Now we’re here. So we wondered. And kept wondering. I probably received 700 “Do you think Peterson is doing this legitimately?” e-mails in November and December. Some were funny, some were thoughtful, some were crazy. All of them made me think.
Did I Google photos of Peterson’s Oklahoma head and compare them to his Minnesota head? I did. And felt like a loser the entire time. Until I mentioned it to a buddy.
“Oh, I’ve done that,” he said. “Everyone does that. That should just be a website. Before/after photos of athlete heads. They should all be in one place.”
And I found myself nodding. That’s a great idea for a website. He’s right.
Does that make me a bad person? Am I damaged? You tell me. At the Grantland office, it’s been something of a running joke: I call it my “Pee In The Cup” list. I never wrote about that list because ESPN Me overruled Sports Fan Me (smartly, in this case). Just know that it doesn’t take much to get added to the list. Some of my favorite ways include …
• Skip the Olympics (which has much stricter drug testing) in your prime for any dubious reason and you’re on the list.
• Enjoy your best season in years in your late 30s, four or five years after your last “best season,” and you’re on the list.
• If you’re a skinny dude who miraculously managed to add 20 pounds of muscle to your scarecrow frame, you’re on the list.
• If you chopped down the recovery time of a debilitating injury to something that just didn’t seem possible a year ago, you’re on the list.
• If you were really good and really ripped at a really young age, and now your body is breaking down much sooner than it should be breaking down, you’re on the list.
• If you’re exhibiting a level of superhuman endurance that has little correlation to the endurance of any of your competitors, you’re on the list.
You’re on the list for reasons that, sometimes, aren’t even your fault. You’re on the list because of mistakes your peers made, because the media foolishly trained itself to look the other way, because we learned the hard way that “absolutely incredible” usually comes with a catch. You’re on the list because your players union negotiated ironclad drug-testing rules, ostensibly to protect your rights, but really to protect your right to cheat without being judged. You’re on the list because our President claims to be a big sports fan but refuses to get involved, and apparently would rather see every sport go to hell over risking political capital and doing something about it. You’re on the list because we don’t have blood testing in your sport yet, or biological passports, or anything else that would allow us to know if you were competing fairly or unfairly. You’re on the list because it’s 2013 and we still have our heads stuck in the sand.
The following anecdote is 100 percent true …
NBA players get tested up to four times during the course of a season. The fourth time can happen at any point from October to June, but once it happens, that’s it. So if your fourth test occurs after your 71st game, you’re clear the rest of the way. It’s a running joke within NBA circles, something of a get-out-of-jail-free card: Once you pee in that fourth cup, you’re good to go. Put whatever you want into your body. Feel like smoking enough weed to make Harold and Kumar blush? Knock yourself out. Feel like replacing your blood with cleaner blood so you have more endurance for the playoffs? Knock yourself out. Feel like starting a testosterone cycle because you might have to play 25 grueling playoff games over the next 10 weeks? Knock yourself out. Remember how competitive these guys are. What would they do for an edge? How far would they go? And why are we giving them the choice?
The following anecdote is also 100 percent true …
Not everyone tests for elevated testosterone. For the leagues or sports that do, they must account for people with naturally elevated levels of testosterone. That threshold is higher than you think because they’re accounting for biological outliers — some athletes might naturally have twice as much testosterone as the average person. All right, so let’s say you’re an NFL player that has to test three times higher than the “average” threshold before getting flagged. Conceivably, you could rely on a controlled amount of HGH, something that bumps you up … just not TOO high. Maybe you jack up your testosterone levels a little under three times higher than they should be. Guess what? That’s still legal! Do they have patches that can briefly bump up your levels without prolonged traces? Yes, they do! Did one famous athlete (not an NFL player) use that patch on his testicles to bump his levels close to that threshold, fall asleep, keep his patch on too long and subsequently fail his next test? Yes, he did! It’s amazing this doesn’t happen more often.
The following anecdote is also 100 percent true …
When Bertrand Berry and Ty Warren suffered a complete tear of their triceps, it took them six months to recover. When Arizona left tackle Levi Brown suffered a complete tear of his triceps in August 2012, the Cardinals immediately put him on their season-ending injured list. When Ray Lewis suffered a complete tear of his triceps in mid-October, we thought he was finished for the season … only he returned to action a little more than two months later. During the third month of his “recovery,” he made 17 tackles in a double-overtime playoff game in Denver. In 13-degree weather. At age 37.
So when Lewis’s name landed in this week’s PED scandal, nobody tumbled over in shock. We wasted the rest of Super Bowl week talking about him, wondering whether he cheated, watching his denial for signs that he was lying, Googling “deer antler spray” and talking about everything other than the game. Eventually, the moment will pass, like it always does. Nothing will change. Sadly, the collective irresponsibility of some sports media members — call it “cornballbrotheritis” — ruined any rational media member’s chances to question the current environment. You don’t trust our ability to handle such a loaded subject, nor should you. We’ve ruined your trust too many times.
I just know that athletes shouldn’t be able to have it both ways. Don’t hide behind your players unions and allow your player reps to fight against better drug testing, then flip out if Jalen Rose and I decide to have an impromptu “Who’s On Your ‘I Need To See You Pee In A Cup’ Team This Year?” podcast. Again, we have the technology now. We can protect clean players from competing against dirty ones. Why aren’t we using it? Henry Abbott’sexhaustive piece on the NBA and PEDs made a fantastic point: Why did FIFA make biological passports (the single best way to catch cheaters right now) mandatory for the 2014 World Cup, but the NBA can’t even convince its players to allow blood testing?
Really? You’re that fearful of what we’d find in your blood, NBA players? If you’re not fearful, why allow your representatives to make it seem like you’re that fearful? How can you expect me NOT to wonder if you’re cheating? Especially when so many other world-class athletes are cheating? Are you really expecting me to believe that Don MacLean, Matt Geiger, Soumaila Samake, Lindsey Hunter, Darius Miles, Rashard Lewis and O.J. Mayo — seven guys with a combined two All-Star appearances — were the only NBA players who ever used banned performance enhancers?
Let’s see what’s in everyone’s body, once and for all. I think you’d be surprised. You’d wonder if some were glorified junkies. You’d be confused about why we placed such a belated priority on concussion awareness while continuing to ignore HGH and steroids and painkillers. Why wasn’t the recent story about the NFL’s Toradol waiver a bigger deal? What’s the difference between taking HGH and Toradol, anyway? What does the word “performance enhancer” really mean? It’s OK to borrow a dead person’s ligament to regain your 95-mph fastball, but it’s not OK to boost your testosterone for those same results? It’s OK to travel to Germany to inject stem cells into your damaged knee to stimulate recovery and regeneration, but it’s not OK to replace your blood with better blood to increase your stamina?
How did we decide what’s right and wrong? Did we just arbitrarily make up a bunch of rules with no correlation to one another? Why won’t our favorite athletes help us out by pushing for more accountability within their sports? The goal should be simple: total transparency. Every American professional league should have the best possible testing. Period. And if athletes don’t think it’s fair … well, I don’t think it’s fair that some of them cheat. So there.
I believe that Ray Lewis cheated. I believe that to be true based on circumstantial evidence, his age, his overcompetitiveness, the history of that specific injury, and the fact that his “recovery” made my shit detector start vibrating like a chainsaw.
I believe in my right to write the previous paragraph because athletes pushed us to this point. We need better drug testing. We need blood testing. We need biological passports. We need that stuff now. Not in three years. Not in two years. Now. I don’t even know what I am watching anymore.
I believe we need to fix this disconnect between our private conversations and our public ones. Cheating in professional sports is an epidemic. Wondering about the reasons behind a dramatically improved performance, or a dramatically fast recovery time, shouldn’t be considered off-limits for media members. We shouldn’t feel like scumbags bringing this stuff up. It’s part of sports.
I believe that, if I played sports for a living, I would steer clear of performance enhancers no matter how many millions were at stake, no matter how famous they might make me, no matter how many titles I might win. I like to believe that, anyway. The truth is … I don’t really know what I would do. And neither do you.
I believe Adrian Peterson came back naturally. I don’t need to see All Day pee in a cup at the Super Bowl. Sports Fan Me and ESPN Me agree on this one. Of course, if you gave us a halftime choice between Beyoncé performing or Ray Lewis peeing in a cup, we’re going with the peeing. Welcome to sports in the 21st century.
There was so much that happened since April 5th, 2012. People were born, people died, people got married, people lost jobs, people got new jobs, and of course, through it all, there was one constant: Baseball. Here is a list of the top 5 things to happen this year!
5. The Washington Nationals – Seriously, good for DC! This team has been trying and trying, and finally they broke through. They did it with home grown talent as well as free agent acquisitions and trades. This is a wonderfully built team and I really am rooting for them. This team, however, clearly thinks it will just always be where they are. They shut down their (second best?) all star pitcher in Steven Strassburg hoping that it would reduce the chance of injury…I hope he comes back in the playoffs to dominate! What a story that would be!
This says it all for the Nationals this year!
4. The Oakland A’s – Moneyball II! This little scrappy team was never in first place until yesterday, joining the 2006 Minnesota Twins and the 1951 Giants as the only teams to never be in first place until the last day of the season. They were five games back just 10 days ago! All this team did was win…well, at least after the all star break. After trading away three all star pitchers, Billy Beane and the A’s were written off this year. That is, until, all those pieces he got back started to play…and play super well. The A’s won 7 games this year when trailing by four or more. This team will be fun to watch in the playoffs if they can stay scrappy. Just remember, if Moneyball taught us anything, it is that a plan put into motion 162 times might work most of the time, but a plan put into action on any given day might not work. I hope the best for this team.
It has been a really good year to be an Oakland A and Billy Beane.
3. Matt Cain’s Perfect Game – Baseball has been around for over 100 years. There have only been 23 perfect games. Two were thrown this past year. Felix Hernandez threw one this year as well, but this post belongs to Matt Cain. June 13th was supposed to just be a normal night, but then all of a sudden something started to happen in the Bay area. There was a buzz around facebook and texts. Something was happening with Matt Cain. When you turned on the game to watch it, there was buzz, electricity about. The stadium was sold out for a game against the Astros, and Matt Cain was tossing a perfect game. Of course, Matt Cain would go on to throw the perfect game, but everyone knows that no good pitching outing is complete without great defense behind him. Gregor Blanco provided just that with an insane diving catch! Congrats to you Matty Cain, thank you for the memories and the fantasy points!
Adam Raised a Matt Cain!
2. Miguel Cabrera – This guy can play. If you remember, I put him on my list of favorite players that were not on my favorite team (I am a Twins fan). This guy is so good, in fact, that he has done something that hasnt been done in 45 years. FORTY FIVE YEARS! Back in 1967, The Doors first album just came out, the Beatles Release Sgt. Peppers, the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in the World series, and Lyndon B Johnson was our president. That was the last time someone hit for the triple crown, which is exactly what Miggy did this year. He lead his league in batting average (.330), Home runs (44) and runs batted in (139). What an amazing feat. Well done Miggy, a tip of my cap to you.
I tip my cap to you Miggy. Next year, cool off a little maybe?
1. Jered Weaver’s No Hitter – How does this top everything else? Well, I have to say I am a little biased. It wasn’t because Weaver smoked the Twins that night or because he was on my fantasy team, the reason this tops the list is because I WAS THERE! I got to see Jared Weaver throw a no hitter! It is one of the coolest sports memories of my young life (Twins beating the Tigers in 163, Favre breaking the TD record against the Vikings are up there as well). So yes, someday if I am lucky enough to have kids, I will be the dad who gets to tell his kid that I was there for a no hitter, and I got to see it and feel that energy that comes with it. Thank you for the memories Jered. Video here.
I am pretty sure I did this exact same thing when I was there.