A Brief History of One-And-Dones and the Impact of the NBA’s Age Limit

As the seconds ticked down to end the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship and the confetti begins to fall, the camera pans over to a crying Jalen Brunson of Villanova alongside his head coach Jay Wright. The junior looks not only like someone who had won his second national championship, but like someone who knows he’s playing his last basketball of college. His decision isn’t final, or at least isn’t publicly, but it’s been assumed by the public for some time now that he’s well on his way. And why wouldn’t he? He’s accomplished in his three years at Nova what most collegiate players dream of. His two national championship and 2018 national player of the year awards highlight the list, but his achievements continue on for a while. On top of that, he’ll still be able to still graduate with an early degree. By doing this, he’s become a poster boy for the benefits of the current one-and-done system in college basketball. Though he was a McDonald’s All American out of high school, he still came to college and ended up staying long enough to push his draft stock. Were he to have gone to the NBA right out of high school, he may have never had the accolades he now holds.

However, anecdotal evidence of a few long term players doesn’t tell the entire story. The current one and done system is the result of an age limit rule that the NBA placed in 2005. The intent of this was to stop players from going to the NBA right out of high school, a decision that had been increasing exponentially in popularity over the decade prior. Kevin Garnett was the first to start this wave, declaring for the draft in 1995 to be selected with the fifth overall pick by the Timberwolves. He was then followed by associate future hall of famers Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady, and LeBron James to name a few. On the other hand, there were as many failures as there were legends in this group. Highly drafted players like Kwame Brown were quick busts then never heard from again. In 2005, the league decided it was risking too much with the busting high school players and, with argument from the players union, instituted an age limit of 19, creating the system we have today. (McCann)

The question we now ask is about the effectiveness of this system. Does it help to prevent early busts? Are players deciding to stay longer and potentially get a degree? Should players have to go to college at all? Taking a look at the numbers from the previous NBA drafts, initially, it does look like that argument could be made. In 2005, nine players were drafted out of high school. In 2006, only two players were drafted as one and dones. However, this trend was bucked very quickly. In 2007, eight freshmen were drafted out of college, and in 2008 that number had jumped to twelve. In the most recent draft, 2017, a stunning eighteen college athletes were drafted after their freshman year. In fact, eleven out of the past twelve NBA drafts have had a one and done athlete go number one overall. The players who would have declared out of high school are now made to take the tedious task of playing college basketball again when it’s clear they won’t be there for four years. To add to the narrative that the one year is useless, among NBA scouts, many tend not to focus on what successes or failures a player had in college and rather focus on physical nature and potential. One very recent example of this is Michael Porter Jr., a basketball player for the university of Missouri. He injured his back early in the season and played only a handful of games. He is still likely to declare for the NBA draft and is projected as a potential top five pick in the draft.

Without obvious positives, it makes the negatives of this situation harder to look away from. When these very high profile high school players go to the NBA, everyone tends to know the situation. They know they’ll only be in college for one year; their parents know they’ll only be in college for one year; and their coaches know they’ll only be in college for one year. This mutual understanding began to change the foundation of NCAA recruiting. When players know they are going to be leaving and are only in it for the money anyways, boosters began to attract these students through payments, illicit by NCAA rules. Why pretend like the players are amateur when the NCAA and the coaches all know that the student obviously isn’t there for an education? This began a dark and deep rabbit hole that the FBI is currently working through sorting out. (Rappaport) As long as the NBA has their age limit of 19, creating the current one and done system, they are intrinsically tied to this underbelly of college basketball. Maybe that’s why Adam Silver is working to reconnect with high schools. (Rollins)

 

Suggested Readings:

McCann, Michael A. “Illegal Defense: The Irrational Economics of Banning High School Players from the NBA Draft.” Va. Sports & Ent. LJ 3 (2003)

Khadrice Rollins “Report: Adam Silver Wants to Revamp One-and-done Rule.” SI.com. Accessed April 05, 2018. https://www.si.com/nba/2018/03/05/adam-silver-elite-high-school-player-one-and-done-change-g-league.

Axson, Scooby, Dan Gartland, and Daniel Rapaport. “How the NCAA Can Solve Existential Hoops Crisis.” SI.com. Accessed April 05, 2018. https://www.si.com/college-basketball/2018/02/23/fbi-probe-investigation-ncaa-recruiting-rules-andy-miller.

 

Is the NCAA an Amateur Organization or Not?

College sports are some of the most supported athletic events in America. Over a hundred thousand people physically go to football games to watch and support their favorite teams, and hundreds of thousands more watch from homes, bars, and anywhere else that will show the game. All of these people have contributed in some monetary form or fashion to the National College Athletic Association (NCAA), and the NCAA does not pay their athletes even though they make a great deal of money from them. Just because this is the case does not mean that the NCAA is an amateur organization.
The NCAA makes millions if not billions of dollars every year off of the sports that are played by member institutions. Nonetheless, the NCAA prides itself on the athletes that compete in intercollegiate play are amateurs and are not compensated. The NCAA is in fact not an amateur organization and they know it as does the rest of the world.
The NCAA was founded in 1906 and the main focus and goal was to help lower the amount of injuries suffered by the athletes playing football. At its founding the NCAA was known as the Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS). The name switched to the NCAA in 1912 (Sack and Staurowsky 33). The main sport that this organization interacted with was football, this was due to football making the majority of the money for the member institutions and the organization as a whole.
Due to the prominence that the sport of football had athletes were loved not just by their teammates and coaches, but also fans, alumni, and classmates. These people were the ones who hindered the NCAA’s dream of their athletes being amateurs. The fans and alumni who were able to help these athletes in any way possible did help these young men, especially in monetary forms. The NCAA knew that this was occurring and took action to stop it.
At the founding and first annual meeting the NCAA created bylaws that the member institutions had to abide by. The specific position on amateurism appeared in Articles VI and VII of these bylaws. The position was that the athletes were to not be paid and to be in fact amateurs. The NCAA took this position to combat the growing practice of an underground paying of their athletes.
Even though the NCAA had a policy in place for not paying their players it still occurred. The payment of the players has happened since the beginning and these people who pay these players are now known as boosters. Today, these boosters do not directly pay the players and that has been the repercussions of the NCAA taking a stronger stand on the payment of athletes. These boosters that we see today donate money or their time, but the majority of these people donate money to the programs at the schools of their choice and that they most likely graduated from.
The money that these boosters make up go to many different things at these institutions. The facilities is a major aspect of what will be donated to, this includes a variety of things from the actual field or court that is played on, the locker room, the training areas, and even the training room where the athletes receive treatments for their injuries. These boosters today are not as often paying the athletes directly but these athletes are far from the amateurs that the founders of the NCAA had in mind; they are now marketed and get free educations that are valued at over hundred thousand dollars.
Considering how the NCAA allows for boosters to pay for certain aspects of the programs that they desire it is true to say that the athletes that participate in intercollegiate athletics are in fact not amateurs. Not only do these athletes get their education paid for but they also receive clothing and apparel, shoes/cleats, housing, and some food paid for. Therefore, the NCAA is not comprised of amateurs and that by definition makes the NCAA a non-amateur organization.

 

 

 

 

Suggested readings: College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy fo the NCAA’s Amateur Myth by Allen L. Sack and Ellen J Staurowsky

Is this the Olympics or War?

On August 26, 1960 a Danish cyclist named Knud Jensen fell from his bike, fractured his skull and died. Initially, the source of his death was unknown; it was proposed that the death was the result of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by a heat stroke. Following this death it was reported that two other Danish cyclist collapsed due to heat stroke. This sequence of events raised suspicion among cyclists from other countries. Many wondered why only Danish cyclist were having issues with heat. According to Thomas Hunt an American cyclist named Michael Hiltner said that the Danish amphetamine usage was common knowledge. Suspicions of amphetamine usage among the Danish cyclist were confirmed when the Danish trainer, Oluf Jorgensen, admitted to providing the athletes with Roniacol, a drug shown to improve blood circulation. This is not the first nor last case of performance enhancing drugs being used in international competition. Performance enhancing drug usage ages back the ages of the original Olympic Games in ancient Greece. According to Dr. Larry Bowers, the word doping is rooted from the word ‘doop’ which is a form of opium juice. The original Olympic champions competed for the notoriety and prizes which could explain why one may use drugs to enhance his or her performance. Moving forward to the mid-20th century performance enhancing drugs are being used, but not to bring glory and prizes to oneself.

The Cold War was a time of great tension between the Soviet Union and the United States. In this period there was competition between these two world powers; this competition showed itself in the sciences, the economy, and ultimately culturally. Whichever country proved to excel in these areas felt that this provided an advantage in showing each’s superiority. As discussed several times in class, sports have a way of reflecting a society’s culture. Leading into the 1960 Olympics it had been noted that performance enhancing drugs were in prevalent use. The Soviet team had been prescribed state-sponsored performing enhancing drugs to shift the advantage in its favor. This usage of drugs was an attempt to enhance the Soviet perceived position in the international political power balance. In the United States, doping had not been established in a state-run fashion like in the Soviet Union; however, there was growing pressure for American athletes to beat Soviet athletes at the Olympics. In response to the high expectation levels set on American athletes, according to Thomas Hunt, American official were encouraged to turn a blind eye to drug usage among athletes. The Olympics had become a political ranking system that was fueled by performance enhancing drugs. This aim for international dominance is best encapsulated by George Orwell’s quote from 1945, “Serious sport…is war minus the shooting.”

Though it was widely known issue, performance enhancing drug usage persisted through the 1960’s without much friction impeding its infiltration into the competition. This phenomenon was due to inaccurate and unreliable testing methods. Specifically, in the 1968 Olympics all drug test came back negative for performing enhancing drugs, but it was seen that there were some questionable data found. Other molecules that contained the same basic structure as known drugs were found, yet these molecules went by undetected as performance enhancing drugs because the molecules were slightly altered to appear different than the illegal substance. Leading into the 1970’s the International Olympic Committee realized that the drug usage in the Games had become a moral and ethical problem. Usage was so widespread at this point that athletes now felt they had to use drugs just to compete. According to Jay Silvester of Brigham Young University, a survey was conducted polling athletes that participated in the 1972 Olympic Games. One question asked, “Have you taken anabolic steriods within the past six months?” To this, 61% of athletes responded yes. Another question asked, “Ethically, do you approve of anabolic steriods in athletics?” In response to this question 45% responded yes and 25% said no. Given this information, and other drug scandals dating to present times, performance enhancing drugs will remain a part of the Olympic Games. I argue that the Games would not be in this position if it were not for the rise of the Cold War. Though performance enhancing drugs have been used since the Olympic Games, the widespread use did not surge until the beginning of state-sponsored doping initiated by the Soviet Union. The drive for political dominance manifested itself in the form of athletic competition. In conclusion,due to the increased emphasis on international dominance by the Soviet Union and the United States performance enhancing drug use became popular and prevalent in the Olympic Games and ultimately still play a role in the Games today.

Suggested Readings

  1. Hunt, Thomas M. Drug Games: The International Olympic Committee and the Politics of Doping, 1960-2008. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2012.
  2. Knauer, Kelly. 1968: The Year That Changed the World. New York: Time Books, 2008.
  3. “Historical Timeline – Drug Use in Sports – ProCon.org.” Should Performance Enhancing Drugs (such as Steroids) Be Accepted in Sports? Accessed March 30, 2018. https://sportsanddrugs.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000017.
  4.  Silvester, Jay L. “Anabolic Steroids in the 1972 Olympics” Oct 2006, Vol. 76 Issue 3, p11-14. 4p. 2 Charts.

Are eSports Modern Sports?

Video games have been in existence for several decades yet competitive video gaming play has been a recent development in the online culture. New to the sporting community is eSports or electronic sports. The contention over their validity being defined as a “sport” lies in their revolutionary approach to sporting culture. These gaming sports do not require the immense physical facilities seen in many traditional sports such as football, soccer, or cricket. eSports are multi-platform games that have been organized and structured for competitive game play. These games include League of Legends, Rocket League, Fortnite: Battle Royal, and many others. The question then concerns the constitution of a “sport”. For Allen Guttmann, a modern sport should have the following seven characteristics: secularism, equality, specialization of roles, rationalization, bureaucratic organization, quantification, and a quest for records (Guttmann 1978). These characteristics focus on a historical development of sport, and they are necessarily applicable to any gaming activity claiming to be a modern sport.

Where sports like soccer and baseball have historically struggled with being recognized as a legitimate sport, eSports have followed a different path to sport-hood. Having their own community and culture, the video gaming world behaves a little differently than most popular activities. For one, it is all electronic and therefore accessible to everyone who has internet service. Second, these gaming communities originated around the fascination and fantasy of the game rather than its social application. I mean to say that eSports have fostered a community of their own rather than participating in the existing community, as seen in the rise of baseball in nineteenth and twentieth century America. To become an eSport-er one must participate in a community independent of his/her physical community, a virtual world.

Using Guttmann’s characteristics of a modern sport, we can evaluate whether eSports are modern sports or if they are simply games. The difference in an individual just playing a game and participating in a sport is the competitive nature of the sport’s structure. We play a game when we desire to be entertained or to pass the time. Games can be competitive and organized, but the division between game and sport lies in the institutionalization of the game. Rocket League, a well-known video game where teams use cars to play a variant of indoor soccer, has become a modern sport by virtue of its ranking system and skill divisions. Anyone can buy, play, and enjoy the competitive nature of Rocket League without being a sporting member, just as children do with soccer or basketball. “Games… when fully institutionalized, becomes sport (Hemphill 2005).”

So where does physical activity lie in the characteristics of modern sport? Hemphill states that a competitor’s physical prowess must contribute to their success. How, then, can pushing a button determine the physical skill of a participant? S. E. Jenny et al. attack the difference between fine and gross motor skills. Though Ninja, the most popular Fortnite: Battle Royal player in the U.S, does not have the muscular capacity to play a full football game or throw a 90 mph fast ball, his fine motor skills are superior to those he competes against (and far beyond the rest of us who play it for fun). His physical prowess is specialized to his game, though many argue this type of physical activity is insufficient to deem it a sport. I contest this further to argue that the combination of fine motor control and mental dexterity permits eSports to be defined as a modern sport. The top eSport players must all have a firm grasp on possible outcomes for each player’s action. They must be able to read the field, immediately adjust, and strategically act in your team’s favor: gaming IQ. This is more easily said than done, and though you may be good at smashing buttons, you may not be able to do so more effectively than your virtual opponent.

eSports are emerging as a new wave of entertainment and competition. They are undervalued in the larger sporting community, but all the prerequisites are there for them to be classified as a modern sport. We have only seen the birth of a handful of eSports since 1999, but the seemingly limitless possibilities of technology enables the creation of new sports in the future.

 

Suggested Readings:

Guttmann, A. (1978). From ritual to record: The nature of modern sports. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.

Hemphill, D. (2005). Cybersport. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 32, 195–207. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17511321.2016.1171252.

Seth E. Jenny, R. Douglas Manning, Margaret C. Keiper & Tracy W. Olrich (2016): Virtual(ly) Athletes: Where eSports Fit Within the Definition of “Sport”, Quest. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00336297.2016.1144517.

“America is Hard to Get Along With”: Moe Berg, the Barnstormers, and Conflict in the Pacific

In 1934, seven years before the United States entered World War II in response to the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, relations between the US and Japan were strained at best. The so-called “Manchurian Incident” three years prior had created a direct conflict of interest between the Japanese, who were seeking to combat the global Depression by extending control over raw materials in northeast Asia, and the Americans, whose efforts to mitigate the economic crisis were strictly isolationist, meaning they would no longer accept Japanese immigrants or Japanese trade. “Unofficial diplomats” on both sides were eager to ease the tension growing as a result of these opposing agendas, yet little progress was made as Japanese and American foreign policies continued to diverge (Davidann). The Japanese especially felt that the Americans were hypocritical in their stance against a Japanese presence in Manchuria—after all, the United States clearly had few qualms about their own involvement in Latin America—, and resented their inconsistencies regarding racial equality and mutual disarmament (Davidann). It was within this period of deterioration that one important commonality grew between the two nations—a love of baseball, and hero-worship of its stars. While this shared cultural phenomenon might have been viewed by idealists as a way to finally bridge the gap over the Pacific, certain hindsight reveals that even amidst an exercise in goodwill, the US was worthy of suspicion in their diplomatic efforts. The presence of one strangely gifted American baseball player who participated in the “barnstorming” tour of Japan along with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig demonstrated, retrospectively, that there would be no amiable relations that did not give the US the upper hand.

Morris Berg, Moe for short, was born in 1902 to a family of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants who had relocated to Harlem, NY. He excelled at sports in high school, and continued playing both basketball and baseball during his career at Princeton University, where he studied seven languages including Greek, French, Latin, and Sanskrit. After Princeton, he signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers which was anything but the start to an impressive career. His initial batting average was .186 in the summer of 1923, and it quickly became apparent that his star shortstop status at Princeton had not translated to the majors after he committed 22 errors in that same season (Fitts). After a chance transition to catcher in the 1927 season, his performance improved and he was eventually selected to travel to Japan and instruct college players as part of friendly international outreach. While there, he developed familiarity with the katakana alphabet and became infatuated with the country. Berg jumped at the chance to return to Japan in 1934 as a member of the American All-Star team, but information that came to light after World War II (in which he would later participate as a member of the OSS) suggested he may not have jumped so much as been deployed.

Most likely via connections made during his time at Columbia Law, the US State Department had taken notice of his linguistic prowess, and someone had seen the opportunity for intelligence gathering where most others had only anticipated an exotic outlet for major league baseball (Berger). Berg arrived in Japan with a 16-mm Bell and Howell movie camera, and a letter introducing him to “the American Diplomatic and Consular Officers” signed by Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Presumably, the camera was meant for him to gather highlight footage in order to fulfill a contract with Movietone News by providing source material for newsreels, but rather than appearing on theatre screens, the footage he returned was analyzed by the US military in preparation for air raids on Japan during World War II (Fitts). So, even while adoring Japanese fans crowded the All-Star team as they took their first steps into Tokyo, they were already being taken advantage of for their enamoring with the American celebrities. Surely, in this context, the remark made by Japanese consul general Tamura Teijiro not long after the barnstormers’ tour that “America is very difficult to get along with” (Davidann) can be well understood. Though the Japanese were not aware at the time, the All-Star tour, which was well-intentioned by those in the sporting community, had been made into an espionage operation by the American government—clearly a violation of the unspoken codes of sport.

In many ways, Moe Berg’s mission on the barnstormers’ tour was reflective of the harsh reality that would eventually culminate in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941: America would never trust an expansionist Japan, and the Japanese could never trust a manipulative Western power. Despite relationships built through avenues such as baseball, the nations’ foreign policies were deadlocked in a conflict that would only be resolved through the brutality of World War II.

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Suggested reading:

Davidann, Jon Thares, Ph.D. “Cultural Diplomacy in US-Japanese Relations, 1919-1941.” Cultural Diplomacy. http://www.culturaldiplomacy.org/academy/pdf/research/books/cultural_diplomacy/Cultural_Diplomacy_in_U.S._-_Japan_Relations,_1919-1941_-_Jon_Thares_Davidann.pdf.

Fitts, Robert K. Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination during the 1934 Tour of Japan.  Univ Of Nebraska Press, 2013.

“Moe Berg.” Moe Berg | Society for American Baseball Research. Accessed March 28, 2018. https://sabr.org/bioproj/person/e1e65b3b.

How a Hockey Game United America: Miracle on Ice and the Cold War

“Do you believe in Miracles?… Yes!”. This, one of the most memorable moments in broadcasting history was uttered in sheer disbelief by Al Michaels as the United States hockey team defeated the Soviet Union squad in the semifinals of the 1980 Winter Olympic games, despite facing seemingly impossible odds against them. This however was not just a victory on the ice in Lake Placid, New York, but a victory for democracy across the world. This victory meant so much more than a gold medal, it was a moment to serve as a unifying force in the heat of the Cold War.

It is no secret that the Olympic Games are not only a display of a country’s athletic prowess, but an opportunity to show their country’s overall superiority. When an Olympic medal is won, it is a moment for the entire world to watch as a nation’s athletes are stood at attention, its spectators belting their national anthem, and its flag flying high in the rafters. While oftentimes the Olympic Games serve to ease international tensions in times of political strife, other times, these international relations are magnified on an even greater scale.

These tensions were arguably at their highest when the US hockey team, consisting entirely of amateurs from various college programs took on the team from the USSR, made of Soviet quasi-professionals, who had won five of the previous six Olympic gold medals, and thirteen out of the previous sixteen world championships (Coffey, 35). The 1980 iteration of the USSR hockey team was seemingly unbeatable, as they defeated the NHL All Star Team 6-0. They also defeated the same US Olympic team just weeks before the Olympics by seven goals at Madison Square Garden (Coffey, 46-48).

To understand the ramification of this game, you have to first understand the world political climate of the time, particularly between the Soviet Union and the United States, and the razor thin line dividing the world between tension and nuclear war. This was immediately following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, and the immediate response of President Reagan, which was to institute what was known as “The Reagan Doctrine”, which focused on dissolving communist nations in Eastern Europe. It was a period of time which many look back upon as the most tense period of the Cold War since the Cuban Missile Crisis (Seifreid, 116-117). It was common knowledge that the Soviets held great disdain for America, and the capitalism which it holds so dear. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was quoted saying “Our firm conviction is that sooner or later Capitalism will give way to socialism. Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you” (Khrushchev, 1956). It was no secret that there was bad blood between the two countries, and these tensions were at their highest leading up to these 1980 Winter Games. This attitude carried over to the players as well. American goalie Jim Craig was quoted saying “I hate them. I don’t hate their hockey players specifically, but I hate what they stand for” (Abelson, 84).

While the Soviets essentially had a professional team—professionals were not allowed in the Winter Games, but Soviet players only trained and practiced, while being “employed” elsewhere—and the US team had only joined together in the summer of 1979, while their Soviet counterparts (for the most part) had been skating together for the better part of a decade. The American team was the youngest team in the field, with an average age of 21, and much less experienced than their Soviet counterparts.

When it came time for the semifinal match up, which was for most, of biblical David and Goliath proportions, few gave the Americans a fighting chance. The day before the game, New York Times columnist Dave Anderson wrote “Unless the ice melts, or unless the United States team or another team performs a miracle…the Russians are expected to easily win the Olympic gold medal” (Anderson, New York Times, February 21, 1980).

The most significant moment of the game occurred as time was waning in the first period, when Mark Johnson found an errant rebound and sent it to the back of the net as time expired, tying the game at two. This caused Soviet Coach Victor Tikhonov to remove goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, who was considered the best goaltender in the world. Tikhonov considers this to have been the turning point in the game, and the “biggest mistake in my career” (Coffey, 150-155).

With ten minutes remaining in the game, captain Mike Eruzione, connected from roughly thirty feet out, giving the Americans their first lead of the game, which they would not relinquish (Coffey, 360-374). As time wound down, the crowd began to countdown the seconds, when Al Michaels joined them in making his famous “Do you believe in miracles?” call. As the clock stuck zero, the American team poured out onto the ice, while Coach Brooks ran back into the locker room and wept, as he was overcome with emotion after witnessing his team defeat one of the best teams ever to play the game (Coffey, 387).

This victory was monumental in the course of 1980 worldwide tension. This came as President Jimmy Carter announced that the United States will be boycotting the 1980 summer games in Moscow in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, as the US House of Representatives approved the boycott by a vote of 386 to 12 (State Department Website). This uplifting moment came when it was most needed. Americans were at a point where they were starting to lose faith in their country, coming off the heels of the disaster of Vietnam, and the first three years of Carter’s presidency, which saw inflation rise, and Americans taken hostage by Iran. This victory gave something to all Americans, a renewed optimism in their country.

While the Americans were filled with joy after this monumental victory, the Russians had the opposite reaction to their loss. Current Russian goalie Evgeni Nabokov spoke about that 1980 game as something that isn’t discussed back in Russia, saying that the story of the game was “never actually told to us” (Nabokov interview, AP 2010). This was done intentionally, as Soviets did their best to ensure that they seemed superior to the Americans. This was a black eye on the Soviet attitude of superiority towards America, and this would spread to the citizens of the country, and across the world.

The victory of US Hockey over USSR was not just a semifinal matchup at the 1980 Olympics games in Lake Placid, New York. It was a victory of David over Goliath, a victory of amateur versus professional, of youth versus age, of desire versus talent, and most importantly; of democracy over communism.

Suggested Reading:

Donald Abelson: Politics on Ice: The United States, the Soviet Union, and A Hockey Game in Lake Placid. 

Wayne Coffey: The Boys of Winter. 

Chad Seifreid: An Exploration into Melodrama and Sport, The ‘Miracle on Ice’ and the Cold War Lens. 

Bonus: Here is Kurt Russell, playing American Coach Herb Brooks in the 2004 film, Miracle, portraying Coach Brooks’ final speech to his team before the game. Arguably one of the best sport movie speeches of all time.

 

Run for the Life: a look into Marathon

When I decided to sign up for my first full marathon in Hawaii, I didn’t think of the reason I like marathon and the reason I wanted to take part in a marathon was just the reasons for marathon lovers in the past. I like marathon because it is a sport that could make me feel good about myself. Completing a marathon suggests I have an indefatigable and positive attitude towards life. “You are the one who can run 26.2 miles for one time, what other things that could defeat you?” Every marathon runner could get this impression when they finish one. And the reason Marathon is loved by people throughout history is that it is such a democratic sport that almost everyone could feel and be inspired with its spirit. No expensive apparatus to buy, just a pair of comfortable sneakers and your courage. However, everyone knows that running 26.2 miles is demanding and could not be attained easily. The combination of accessibility and insurmountablity bring people at different periods to admire this game.

 

The first Marathon was held in 1896 Olympic Game in Greece to commemorate the Greek war happened in the ancient Marathon town. It was certain that the sport was designed to be insurmountable as it was supposed to remind people of the ancient glory coming with effort and blood. In fact, there was only 15 runners participated in 1896 Marathon, and only 8 completed it. After 1896, Boston Athletic Association(BAA) held Boston Marathon almost every year, which became one of the most prominent Marathon games. The designers might not anticipate the extent of masochistic nature of human beings. Within decades, the tedious and seemingly insurmountable marathon became popular, and many people took part in it as a ritual to ignite their passion for life. 1903 Marathon runner John C Lorden ran as a defiance to his doctor, who claimed that his physical condition prohibited him from taking in any intense activity. And through successfully completing a Marathon, Lorden proved himself more capable than his doctor claimed. And a more recent runner Jack Fultz, who won the 1977 Boston Marathon, ran the marathon because he did not want to “work just for the sake of weekly paychecks”. These are brave men who interpreted the marathon spirit, which is never to conform into an unsatisfactory life.

 

But Marathon spirit not only affects individuals but also affects communities. In 1942, which was during a heat moment in WW2, Boston governor “requested that the race be run on Sunday instead so defense workers could watch” because “a nation needs men of stamina and physical endurance”. And interestingly, the 1945 Boston Marathon held the smallest field since 1903 as there were only 56 runners showing up. 1945 was the year in vicinity to the victory of WW2, with Berlin being besieged and Japan approaching surrender. It was not sure that the reason that American did not take part in 1945 Marathon was that they did not need much stamina since they had already seen the victory, but it is sure that Marathon could inspire people in harsh time.

 

It is also interesting to see that Marathon, as a non-team sport, could inspire communities through individuals. Usually, it is the excellent cooperation in a team game that brings up a strong sense of togetherness among spectators. However, although marathon is a game performed by individuals, modern marathon runners feel it a res

ponsibility and honor to represent their communities. National pride is one reason that the runners struggle for. In 1951 when Japan was under the conquer of General McArthur, some Japanese took part in the Boston Marathon in order to show their strong will and capability. And the female runner Wanda Panfil who ran in 1992 Marathon said she had the duty to run for her gender. The glory of running a marathon expands from individual runners to the communities they stand for. In these cases, the Japanese and Wanda Panfil were underdogs in international prestige and gender disadvantage, and they both chose Marathon to perform their strength.

 

And as mentioned in the beginning, Marathon has been a democratic sport accessible to everyone, and is becoming even profitable. Some poor people would even like to “pay” for a running. In 1937, which was when the American started its economic booming, an unemployed man Walter Young pawned his previous wallet he won in the 20-miler for money to cover the Marathon race. And BAA “finally accepted that top athletes received money for top performances” in 1986. This attracted many competitive African runners, who could make a one-year earning for their family for just showing up on the race and ranking high. These further prove the universal spirit of Marathon. Life is miserable, but people can run Marathon, eithe

r for a kick in life or for money to make better life.

 

In 2016 Hawaii marathon, I spent seven and a half hours completing it, which was a really “amateur” performance. But still, I felt the stamina of this game when I saw people applauding for an over-80-year-old elderly pacing on the race track. This has been the marathon spirit, an indomitable and positive attitude towards life, and marathon spirit never dies.

Reference:
Sutcliffe, Mark, and Bart Yasso. Long Road to Boston: The Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Marathon. Ottawa: Great River Media, 2016.
Derderian, Tom. Boston Marathon: Year-by-year Stories of the World’s Premier Running Event. New York, NY: Skyhorse Publishing, 2017.
Photo:
(top)https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/inspiring-america/first-woman-officially-run-boston-marathon-makes-triumphant-return-n747616
(down)https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2017/04/17/boston-marathon-2017-finish-line-photos/

The Strange Case of Bill Buckner

October 25, 1986. It is the bottom of the 11th inning, and the Boston Red Sox are one out from ending a 68-year World Series drought. The vast majority of Boston fans have never seen their team win the championship, but their time has come. Up in the series 3-2, the Sox have two outs, but their fate is not yet sealed. The Mets begin a two-out rally and tie the score on a wild pitch. With a runner at third, Boston needs one out. The stadium-crowd, and the television audience beyond, intently watches as a routine ball is hit to first base, but before Sox fans can breath a sigh of relief, the ball dribbles between Bill Buckner’s legs and down the right field line as the winning runner scores, triggering a seventh game. The Red Sox go on to lose the series, and among baseball fans, especially those from Boston, Buckner’s name — once beloved — lives in infamy. 

Almost immediately, the blowback materialized. Boston fans loudly complained to reporters that “[they]’ve been waiting for decades for a championship,” while others exclaimed that “Bill Buckner can rot in hell.” But, in a game in which errors are common, why is Buckner so reviled among fans of the sport? 

The answer lies in baseball history. Since the late-19th century, Americans have viewed baseball as a representation of American pride, patriotism and identity, and it manifests itself in the fact that the game is “imbued with ritual, magic, myth, and imitations of immortality” (Grella 550) . This romanticism of baseball is reflected in two predominant aspects of the sport: statistics and the Hall of Fame. “First and foremost, major league baseball compiles voluminous statistics on virtually every aspect of player performance” (Allen and Parsons 809).Further, the baseball Hall of Fame serves to historicize the sport as ‘The Great American Game.’ Thus, the institution, which judges players based on their statistics, “represents … the relationship between achievement and consecration” of a player into the long history of baseball and American culture (Allen and Parsons 809). For this reason, baseball fans today tend to look to the Golden Era of baseball and remember Hall of Famers, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Micky Mantle, and Ted Williams, not only as players of the game, but as deities that all players today strive to emulate. This cultural aspect of American baseball is of key importance to the understanding of the sentiment of Red Sox fans and its ramifications in the 1986 World Series.

All Red Sox fans and players, going into the World Series, knew the Curse of the Bambino. The legend states that the 1919 Red Sox trade of Babe Ruth to the Yankees cursed the franchise, preventing them from winning another title. Further, the drought served to justify the truth of such a curse. This was on the minds of every player and spectator in the 1986 World Series, especially Bill Buckner. Weeks before the game, Buckner revealed his feelings in an interview: “The dreams are that you are gonna have a great series and win, and the nightmares are that the winning run will score on a groundball through your legs.”

As the possibility of the win seemed more likely, the pressure to win the game grew. Not only did Boston players hope to bookend the legend of the Red Sox tradition but each player sought to live up to the standard of the greatest players and assume their own place in baseball history. As game 6 of the series dragged on, the fans hoped and the players dreamed. Ultimately, those dreams came down upon one man in the final minutes of the game. Thus, the mental pressure of that moment made easier the possibility of failure, which Bill Buckner experienced, followed by humiliation. Buckner, just like so many before him, became a victim of the Curse of the Bambino.

Sports psychology has attempted to understand why players, such as Buckner, are susceptible to failure in pressure situations. Team psychologist for the Cleveland Indians, Charlie Maher, labels the affliction “misplaced focus.” He claims that the phenomenon is not physical but wholly mental: “If [a player’s] focus is really misplaced, it’s on results. It’s on what people are thinking. It gets them away from the fluidity of the process of the game.”

This misplaced focus, the worry of not making the play, to which Buckner alluded just 19 days prior, is what Buckner experienced. He was focused on the results — the possibility of ending the 68-year drought and assuming his place among the great baseball players — rather than fielding the groundball and making the third out.

Bill Buckner is one of the most remembered players in recent baseball history, but he is infamous rather than glorious. As stated by Bob Ryan from the Boston Globe, “when that ball went through Buckner’s legs, hundreds of thousands of people did not view it as an error but as something he had done to them personally.” Buckner’s legacy elicits an emotional response among baseball fans because his error represents the desires of fans to cheer their team to victory, the hopes of players to be remembered as one of ‘the greats,’ and the ultimate truth that only few succeed in the end. Today, Buckner holds a place in baseball history — not one that emulates Babe Ruth and the Golden Age of baseball, but one that reminds all who play and watch that it is a game of failure, but that the possibility of success amid that failure is what makes baseball so great.

References:

Allen, Michael Patrick, and Nicholas L. Parsons. “The Institutionalization of Fame: Achievement, Recognition, and Cultural Consecration in Baseball.” American Sociological Review 71, no. 5 (October 2006): 808-25. Accessed March 11, 2018. JSTOR.

“Bill Buckner: Behind the Bag.” In E:60. ESPN. October 25, 2011. Accessed March 11, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4CR9kKGeE5Q.

Grella, George. “Baseball and the American Dream.” The Massachusetts Review 16, no. 3 (Summer 1975): 550-67. Accessed March 11, 2018. JSTOR.

Meisel, Zack. “The Yips: Difficult to Understand, Difficult to Cure.” MLB.com. May 10, 2013. Accessed March 11, 2018. https://www.mlb.com/news/the-yips-difficult-to-understand-difficult-to-cure/c-47124896.

 

The Legitimacy of Esports

There’s a battle going on in the world of sports today. It isn’t for baseball or basketball, rugby or soccer. It’s a team-based effort, involving skill, intellect, and trained physical ability, yet it hasn’t existed for a second of its life without having its legitimacy questioned. Despite this, even in its infancy it’s growing faster than anyone could have imagined, and it goes by the name of “esports”.

So then, what exactly are esports? Essentially, esports are video games that can be played at a highly competitive level, either by talented individuals or coordinated, skilled teams depending on the game. Titles such as League of Legends and DOTA 2 are among the biggest of these esports, whereas Super Smash Bros. and the relatively new team-based shooter game, Overwatch also garner much attention in the esports world, with Overwatch even having an entire esports league developed around it.

The issue with esports is that they aren’t often considered viable. Why is this? I’d argue that a good amount of the bias comes from the fact that we’ve never seen anything like them before. Everything previously considered a sport has generally kept a few key features. With the invention of baseball, basketball, rugby, soccer, and even cricket, all these major sports include acts of intense physical activity at some point or another, namely running. Because of this focus on the physical, esports are criticized in the same way that chess is, as they aren’t highly physical games.

Take, for instance, how Guttmann defines sports in his well-renowned piece From Ritual to Record: The Nature of Modern Sports. An excellent introductory piece to modern sports, Guttmann breaks down play, games, and sports into multiple dichotomies. Play can either be spontaneous or organized. When it’s organized it becomes a game, which can either be noncompetitive or competitive. If a game is competitive, it can be an intellectual contest or a physical contest, in which it is finally recognized as a sport.

However, this argument causes issues for even Guttmann when attempting to categorize car and horse racing, as both require physical ability and exertion from the individual, yet also rely on a horse or car. This suggests that the problem is with how we have adapted our view of what a sport is across history.

In his review of Spivey’s work on the ancient Greek Olympic Games, Van Nijf writes that, “Spivey is certainly right to emphasize the military (and political) associations of the games, but […] [t]he earliest accounts of sport suggest a different line: in Homer, athletic competition was used to establish man’s value among his peers, not as a form of warfare.”

So if the initial purpose of sport was to establish value, why is it that we focus so heavily on the physical aspects of sports, to where something that is equally challenging is denied acceptance as a sport? Esports require the same teamwork, intelligence, and coordination that, say, basketball does, yet because it is less about running and more about quick hand-eye-coordinated movements it is illegitimate?

As written in Educational Technology, “esports should be considered a legitimate sport because they combine ‘abilities such as hand-eye-coordination, dexterity, and reaction speed as well as tactical understanding. Players are organized into teams […] and often are sponsored internationally.’” Interestingly, these are the same things that major sports include.

For instance, take team Cloud 9 from Overwatch. They’re a professional team that practices together in just the same way as, say, the University of Michigan Wolverines might. However, both teams have hilariously suffered embarrassments of failed coordination in the past. As noted in Reader’s Digest, in 1993, Chris Webber of the Wolverines called for a time-out losing North Carolina at 73-71 with only 11 seconds on the clock. Unfortunately, his team was out of time-outs, and thus he was given a technical foul, losing his team the game 77-71. Similarly, Cloud 9 (or C9) lost multiple rounds in Overwatch for failing to communicate and realize that an enemy was capturing their objective. Forever on, in any game played of Overwatch, if a game is lost due to failing to pay mind to the objective, the failure is referred to as a “C9” (a video of this is attached to the post).

In conclusion, in esports, you have the same level of organization and competition that Guttmann calls for in sports, and you not only have physical ability involved, but also intellectual ability. Not only that, but there are teams, leagues, and rules just like sports. The physical requirements may not necessarily be as taxing as, say, running around, but the amount of training and physical challenge required (see the player who averages 5-6 controller inputs per second in the attached Melee video) in esports is definitely the same and should no doubt qualify it as a sport. They not only include everything required for sports, but also bridge the gap between the intellectual and physical divide that once existed in definitions of sport.

Works Cited

Engerman, Jason A., and Robert J. Hein. “ESports Gaming and You.” Educational Technology 57, no. 2 (2017): 62-64. http://www.jstor.org/stable/44430526.

Guttmann, Allen. From Ritual to Record: the Nature of Modern Sports. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012.

Madden, Steve. “5 Worst Mistakes in Sports History | Reader’s Digest.” Reader’s Digest. February 08, 2017. Accessed March 09, 2018. https://www.rd.com/culture/5-worst-mistakes-in-sports-history/.

Van Nijf, Onno M. The International History Review 27, no. 4 (2005): 819-20. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40109679.

 

 

Controversy at the Bowls?

The Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Cotton Bowl Classic, and Fiesta Bowl need no explanation when it comes to those who follow college football. These are the very popular post-season football games that are a great privilege to be apart of as an NCAA Division I football player.  The start of the ever-growing tradition started with The Rose Bowl, which has been coined “the granddaddy of them all”. It is also where the name “bowl game” originated. The bowl was first played on January 1, 1902, in Pasadena, California by Michigan and Stanford. (Michigan won 49-0). The game was a match-up between the Eastern and Western parts of the country hosted by the Tournament of Roses Association. However, the game did not become an annual event until 1916 where the tradition of playing on New Years Day began. It wasn’t until the 1930’s that more bowls were created (The Sugar Bowl, the Orange Bowl, the Sun Bowl, and the Cotton Bowl Classic), this was in part because cities saw how the games could promote tourism. Now, as previously mentioned, there are a total of 39 bowl games to be played by the 115 teams of NCAA Division I football. The more favored games are the ones apart of the playoffs for the national championship, these change every year based on a rotation. The games are very popular among teams and colleges because of the financial interest of participating. For the traditional bowl games such as the ones mentioned above, teams can earn upwards of 10 million dollars.

One might ask how the teams are chosen for these prestigious games, especially the ones used for the playoffs like The Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl, Sugar Bowl, for example. One of the most basic rules to even be considered for a bowl game is that the team must have 6 regular season wins. Some bowl games have predisposed contracts that they have to follow, for example, the Alamo Bowl always plays a team from the Big 10 and the Big 12 conference. However, in order to determine who gets into the playoff bowl games a committee, The bowl-championship-series committee (BCS), uses ranking systems. These systems include national polls, such as the USA Today, ESPN Coaches’ Poll and the AP Writers’ Poll, computer based-rankings, and the “eye-test”. The “eye test” is judging which teams would be best in the playoffs, purely based off of observation. Of course, as with any sport, the ranking systems are all seen as controversial because many believe that if their beloved teams do not get chosen it is due to favoritism among conferences or teams.

So how does the BCS decide which factors play larger roles than others in the formula they use, especially, when trying to determine what system would be the best overall and ultimately  “fair” to all the teams?  A study was done by Joseph Martinich, of the University of Missouri, can be used to determine what ranking system works best in the formula used by the BCS to pick the playoff teams. It should be noted that this study was conducted in 2002 so the BSC rules have been changed or modified but the overall effect still holds true. Martinich wanted to know if things such as victory margin and head to head match ups of the teams being considered for the bowls games would affect the computer ranking systems and the polls. He concluded that polls of coaches and sports writers and computer ranking systems were both equally accurate and good, even if they were using different information. Meaning that both the polls and eye test gave the same results as an unbiased computer system. So the continuing debate over whether the committee is biased is a mute-point as rankings would be accurate no matter how they were generated, by a computer or person.

References:

Martinich, Joseph. “College Football Rankings: Do the Computers Know Best?” Interfaces, vol. 32, no. 5, 2002, pp. 85–94.