Tag Archives: football

Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

When he goes to bed tonight, Tony Dungy should offer a prayer of thanks that the US isn’t at the mercy of people like him.

Tony Dungy wouldn’t have drafted Michael Sam. But not because he’s gay! No, no. Because things will happen. You know … things.

Three thoughts.

1: Look! Look! See, Michael Sam is on TV being interviewed about non-football issues. He’s being a DISTRACTION! And why? Because … well, because Tony Dungy is in the media talking about how Sam is a distraction.

Don’t start no distraction, won’t be no distraction. Just saying. Continue reading Tony Dungy is the Clarence Thomas of football

#USMNT should pledge itself to Jurgen Klinsmann for the long term – regardless of what happens in Brazil

Landon Donovan was left off the World Cup team and American soccer fans are up in arms. Everyone needs to calm the heck down and think about the big picture for a minute.

Yesterday US Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23-man roster that will represent America in this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil. That roster didn’t include one Landon Donovan, the nation’s best-known soccer player (and one that many casual observers mistakenly regard as the best player in our history, but that’s another argument for another day). Continue reading #USMNT should pledge itself to Jurgen Klinsmann for the long term – regardless of what happens in Brazil

NCAA Final Four: Kentucky vs. UConn reminds us how bad American sports are at deciding champions

US sports leagues reward inferior teams and routinely deny their best teams the championship.

Richard Allen Smith and I have argued from time to time about the merits of the BCS vs. the NCAA basketball tournament. Rich defends the BCS, while I point out its unfairness and corruption. He argues that the BCS does (did) a good job at getting the two best teams on the field for the final game, and that the single-elimination format of the Dance routinely allows inferior teams to win.

Whatever you may think about the BCS, it has to be said that Rich is right about March Madness. Tonight we’re going to see a “national championship” game featuring a team whose regular season performance merited them a seed in the 28-31 range playing a team whose record earned them an 8 seed – which is to say, they were somewhere in the early- to mid-30s. Continue reading NCAA Final Four: Kentucky vs. UConn reminds us how bad American sports are at deciding champions

Michael Sam comes out; will any existing players join him?

Michael Sam has made it easier for current gay players in the NFL. Will they do the same for him?

By now you’ve probably heard that Missouri defensive lineman Michael Sam has publicly announced that he’s gay. A projected third-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft, this decision will (unless all 32 teams simply decide that they’re going to be officially homophobic and to hell with whoever doesn’t like it) make him the league’s first active out player.

NFLPA President Domonique Foxworth predicts that players will accept him “with open arms.” Makes sense – his teammates at Mizzou did. Continue reading Michael Sam comes out; will any existing players join him?

Italian football sanctions AC Milan over fan insensitivity

The Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), the governing body of football in Italy, just broke bad on AC Milan over its supporters abusive behavior. Gab Marcotti at ESPN FC explains.

The Italian FA charged Milan for the fact that some of their fans engaged in racist abuse during Sunday night’s match against Napoli. In accordance with the regulations, the stand from which the abuse originated (San Siro’s Curva Sud) will be shut for one game. (Individual supporters who are identified can also be charged under separate statutes. Had the abuse been reported as more widespread, Milan could have been forced to play behind closed doors. And had it been noted by the official, the game could have been suspended.)

As you probably know, we’re not fans of racism in football at S&R. Not at all. Nor are our guest posters. So the idea that FIGC is finally getting off its ass and doing something about the appalling behavior of it fan base is welcome news.

Except, well, except that this isn’t exactly what’s happening here after all. Marcotti continues:

But here’s the thing. Of the 14 Napoli players who played that day, 13 were Caucasian. The other, Juan Camilo Zuniga, is mixed race. And he wasn’t being targeted. In fact, the songs had nothing to do with race as in skin color. They were all about Naples and Neapolitans. And apart from striker Lorenzo Insigne, none of the players were from Naples.

The song in question talked about Naples being dirty, about Neapolitans not using soap, having cholera and stinking to high heaven. Another chant implored Mount Vesuvius to erupt and clean up Naples, presumably by killing all the Neapolitans.

It’s offensive and tasteless, sure. But is it the kind of thing that should be barred from football stadiums?

Let’s venture a bit deeper into the weeds, shall we?

The Italian FA is not just taking its cue from UEFA’s new disciplinary code and specifically Article 14 (PDF), which deals with “racism, discriminatory conduct and propaganda.” And in doing so, it’s basically acting as a test case for possible future legislation.

Article 14 punishes those who “insult the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on the grounds of skin color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” Read it closely and you’ll see that while racism, ethnic abuse and sectarian abuse are specifically mentioned, it’s actually about insulting the “human dignity” of a group or individual. That can easily include other forms of discriminatory abuse, such as homophobic abuse.

But what they’ve done in Italy is to specify what constitutes an insult to “human dignity” and, unlike UEFA, they specifically cite (in addition to sexuality) territorial origin.

Ummm. Listen, I’m all for dropping the hammer on racism. But…this isn’t racism, is it? Is it legitimately “ethnic abuse”? Well, if you dig into Italian history, yeah, the South and the North have somewhat different ethnic histories, sort of. Of course, the diffs probably aren’t as pronounced as the gap you’d find between the North End in Boston and the cracker neighborhood I grew up in.

I don’t know. I’m ambivalent here. There can be fine lines in cases like this, and I won’t deny that sometimes Northern Italians speak about their Southern countrymen in ways that feel a bit like racism. Still, I’m not at all sure that FIGC hasn’t overreached.

Part of me says lighten up – this is basic smack talk. It’s often insensitive, I suppose, but are we going to ban fans for hurting the feelings of their opponents? (Read the rest of the article – Marcotti is on his game here.)

This one troubles me, not the least because I have earned a rep as an accomplished purveyor of the trash myself. And my beloved Rocky Mountain Blues have been known to sings songs that are, ummm, potentially hurtful. For instance, we hate the Scousers (Liverpool FC), and the article notes a certain cultural stereotype pertaining to property crime. We like to sing this one, to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”:

You are a scouser
A dirty scouser
You’re only happy on Giro Day
Your mum’s out thieving
Your’s dad’s drug dealing
Please don’t take my hubcaps away…

And there’s “In Your Liverpool Slums”:

In your Liverpool slums
You look in a dustbin for something to eat
You find a dead rat and you think it’s a treat
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
Your mum’s on the game and your dad’s in the nick
You can’t get a job ’cause your too fucking thick
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
You wear a shell suit and have got curly hair
All of your kids are in council care
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
There’s piss on the pavement and shit on the path
You finger your grandma and think it’s a laugh
In your Liverpool slums

We also love to sing in honor of Manchester United hero Ryan Giggs. To the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”:

Oh Ryan Giggs (oh Ryan Giggs)
Is fucking sheep (is fucking sheep)
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep
He’s fucking sheep, sheep and more sheep
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep

This one works equally well for Gareth Bale, or for matter any Welshman with the right number of syllables in his name. The Welsh are whiter than I am – is this racist? Ethnic abuse? Or is it simply nationalistic, tribalistic, etc.? Am I describing a difference that makes no difference?

We even have at our own. Referencing the infamous scandal involving Blues captain John Terry and the girlfriend of former teammate Wayne Bridge, there’s this one to the tune of “London Bridge”:

Mrs. Bridge is going down
Going down
Going down
Mrs. Bridge is going down
On John Terry

Of course, this is personal, not collective. I just wanted to throw it in because it’s my favorite.

Frankly, these are some of the nicer ones. There are lyrics in a few songs I’ve heard that you wouldn’t repeat in a crowd of drunken sailors.

Perhaps you get where I’m going. There’s no excuse whatsoever for racism, but there’s a line, right? It can’t be illegal to be rude, can it? Sure, it’s primitive and juvenile and frankly, we already knew that I’m a terrible human being.

I mean, if you adopted these kinds of rules in the US, that would mean I could no longer point out, when the Broncos are getting ready to play the Raiders, that Oakland is the world’s largest open-air latrine. When the Avs go to play the Devils, I can’t crack that the New Jersey state bird is the housefly. That Nebraska’s football team plays on natural grass so the cheerleaders will have a place to graze. It would probably be hurtful even to snark about what a high percentage of Bengal players wind up in jail.

Or are these things okay because there is no twinge of the ethic about them?

We’ll be watching as things develop in Serie A. Like I say, I applaud any and all efforts to scrub racism from the game. But it would also be a mistake to overcorrect, I think. I’ve had some opposing fans say nasty things to me through the years, and I’d hate to see them punished over a weak-ass attempt at cleverness.

It’s bad enough that their teams suck and their children look like the mailman, don’t you think?

(Shed End) Seattle Diary: I was wrong (and Mikel scores!)

Shed End Seattle

Last weekend I was near despair. As I wrote Sunday, I had marched forth in search of a Chelsea FC community here in my new city only to come up empty. Given the vibrance of the Rocky Mountain Blues supporters club in Denver, I was not exaggerating when I explained the emptiness and disappointment I was feeling.

Within a couple hours of posting my lament, I heard from Jason Smith, the man in charge of Shed End Seattle, the city’s main (and perhaps only – the existence of the Northwest Blues is very much in question at present) CFC group. Turns out the problem wasn’t with the club, it was with the pub – the George & Dragon has decided that it’s better for business if they show games on replay so they can space out their customers during the day. Ummm, yeah. If management is reading this, give me a call. There are some fundamental marketing principles that we need to talk about.

SES was working on the problem and has found a new place – the Market Arms in Ballard – that shows the games live. They were going to be there today. I signed up for the Facebook page and traded some comments with various members of the club, and it was with borderline frantic enthusiasm that I set off this morning to meet them in person and watch the Blues take on West London rival Fulham.

I try not to be wrong any more than I have to, but last week’s post was wrong, and as a result I’m as happy right now as I was despondent then. Jason and the rest of the crowd (pictured above, and bear with me – I’m terrible with names but I will get them all down eventually) turn out to be fantastic. (Since all they had seen of me was my current FB profile pic, they were surprised that I’m bald.) Knowledgable, enthusiastic, and they went out of their way to make the new guy feel welcome. I’m already looking forward to the next match (although since it’s a 4:30am start and the Arms seems unwilling to get up quite that early, we’ll probably be watching on replay).

The Arms, for its part, is a legit pub (the full English is recommended).

While I was wrong last week about the existence of a CFC community here, the rest stands. The RMBs are a special group and I hope they never lose sight of how great they have it. With luck I’ll find the same kinds of friendships here.

Oh yeah, and John Obi Mikel scored the capper today. For you throwball fans, Mikel finds the back of the net about as often as your average backup offensive tackle gallops 99 yards for a touchdown. I predicted that this was the year it would finally happen, though, and to celebrate I stripped and streaked down Market St. I’m not sure if anyone got video, but if they did let me know and we’ll post it for the entertainment of the RMBs and beefcake-loving women everywhere.

We do have this video, though.

 

Conspiracy theory: did Wayne Rooney and David Moyes play Jose Mourinho?

Periodically friends will accuse me of being “pure evil.” I cherish these moments, and am proud of the fact that my mind goes where no demented mind has gone before. But it can be something of a plague, because there’s this part of me that thinks if I’m that sinister, other people must be, too. This quality has not rendered me the most trusting of people, I fear.

Anyhow, if you follow football (not throwball, but football of the global variety, or “soccer,” as you Yanks insist on calling it), you know that one of the protracted dramas of the summer transfer season was Chelsea FC’s pursuit of Manchester United’s star forward, Wayne Rooney (aka “Shrek”). The Blues needed a proven presence up top, and Rooney was disenchanted both with ManUre in general and with incoming manager David Moyes in particular. Shrek played for Moyes back when he was at Everton, and apparently is not fond of the man.

Rooney made clear that he wanted out, Moyes and the club made clear that he wasn’t for sale, and along the way the manager uttered some words in a presser that he insists were taken out of context, but that nonetheless were interpreted by the English football press as indicating that Rooney was to MU’s plans as horse droppings are to work shoes.

And the game was afoot.

Of course, in the end, when nothing was really moving, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho put it out there that in order for the deal to get done Rooney needed to step up and put in a formal transfer request to force United’s hand. Rooney didn’t, and CFC wound up with Plan B, Cameroon’s is-he-over-the-hill-or-not striker Samuel Eto’o instead. For American football fans who are having a hard time following the implications here, this is kinda like you were hoping to land Drew Brees and wound up with Donovan McNabb.

All summer I wondered aloud whether Mourinho, a consummate mind-gamer, actually wanted Rooney or if he was simply fucking with Moyes’s head. Or a bit of both.

Tonight I found myself in pure evil mode, wondering the very opposite: what if it was Mou being played like a four-Euro banjo?

Here’s the scenario. Moyes takes over at MU from Everton. He’s been around the block and knows that Mourinho, taking the helm at Chelsea, is a) in dire need of a new top-tier striker, and b) as noted above, a world-class agitator. So he goes to Rooney and says a) you’re critical to my plans and I want you here no matter what, and b) let’s fuck over Mourinho. Shrek says … well, he probably asks if Moyes’s grandmother is dating anyone at the moment, but that’s another post for another day.

So Rooney suggests, within earshot of a reporter, that he is not entirely enchanted with the idea of playing for Moyes, whom he considers to be a sheep-shagger of the first order. Mourinho sees an opening and dives in.

And the summer-long drama unfolds, with Roo sending out regular come-get-me signals and Chelsea making increasingly lavish offers for his services. United has a bit of sport with the whole thing, not only rejecting the various offers but at one point demanding not only outrageous sums of money, but also Chelsea’s best players in return. (Yes, you can have Brees. For Peyton Manning, Von Miller and three #1 picks.)

Meanwhile, Chelsea swallows the hook and goes all-in. Instead of hedging their bets by lining up a deal for another top-flight striker, should the Shrek deal tank on them, they convince themselves that it’s as good as done and forego the groundwork necessary to land a respectable Plan B.

In the end, Rooney wusses out and decides to stay, leaving Mourinho standing in the rain holding his nutsack (aka Eto’o, who was hell on two legs four years ago but after pissing away the last couple of years in Siberia is, ummm, on the back nine of his career).

That’s the conspiracy theory.

Now, let’s be clear – I have zero evidence that this is what happened. As I said before, I’m occasionally just evil enough to pull some shit like this and it makes me paranoid that others might be, too.

So, you’re wondering: is there reason to believe that this isn’t at all what happened? Yes. A couple things leap to mind.

First, the timing. If you were going to pull this, you’d wait until the last possible second to pull out, making sure that your trollee had no time at all to react. That isn’t what happened. It became clear a few days before the transfer window closed that Rooney wasn’t going to go through with it, and had Chelsea not had all its eggs in that basket they might have been able to get in for a suitable alternative.

Second, there was the whole Ander Herrera debacle, where the Yes Men apparently showed up at Athletic Bilbao to “negotiate” on United’s behalf. You can’t possibly think the people behind one of the sport’s greatest Keystone Kops episodes was also evil genius enough to shank the Special One.

Verdict: probably not. Still, it’s never a bad thing to remind yourself that there are scheming, evil motherfuckers out there looking to screw you to the wall. Assume that they’re at least as smart as you are and plan accordingly.

Meanwhile, Mourinho has to figure out how to turn the combination of Fernando Torres, Eto’o and Demba Ba into something resembling a real strike force. Whether he got played by Moyes or he played himself, he’s now got his work cut out for him.

Counterpoint: Riley Cooper is exactly what you see in the video

Crisis reveals character, they say.

I hope you read Otherwise’s piece on Riley Cooper the other day. It’s truly an exceptional example of the kind of honest, intelligent thinking I’ve come top expect from my colleagues here at S&R.

But while I agree with most of the principles underlying Otherwise’s reasoning, I’m not sure I’m convinced that they apply to Cooper specifically. Before I make my case, let’s review the video that touched off the whole firestorm.

I guess the question of whether to condemn Cooper or, as Otherwise suggests, give him a break, hinges on whether or not we believe what he has said since the video went public. True, he has in fact said and done a great deal that you’d ask someone who was genuinely contrite to do. No argument about that.

The thing is, I don’t believe him. Let’s begin by examining the timeline. The video broke on July 31, and the apologizing commenced shortly thereafter. But the incident happened on June 9. that’s over six weeks where he did nothing. He didn’t apologize publicly. He didn’t tell the club or his teammates and apologize to them. It doesn’t sound like he told his parents about it. You know, the people who didn’t raise him that way and who are now in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Six weeks. He. Did. Nothing. Despite his mea culpas and his insistence that this isn’t a word he uses and it isn’t the kind of person he is, he did nothing.

Okay, you may be saying, but if he made this horrible mistake and was this embarrassed by it of course he wouldn’t say or do anything. He probably hoped it would go away, and no way in hell he actually wants to draw attention to it. Think of the most embarrassing thing you ever did, Sam. Did you go public with it?

No I didn’t, and this is a great point. It’s not only possible, it’s plausible.

But it isn’t consistent with a couple of things. First, you don’t have to go public to apologize to the security guard. You can find him, apologize, maybe even try and make it up by doing something nice for him. Cooper didn’t do this.

What else? Oh – the team says he’s now receiving counseling, and if we’re to believe what he says he’s probably grateful for it. He asks us to believe that this outburst represents behavior that is out of character for him, and if so, he had to be shocked to hear that word coming out of his mouth. I can empathize with that. If I was pissed off and all of a sudden heard myself using that language it would rock my self-image to the foundation. I’d absolutely be seeking counseling of some sort because I’d be in need of it.

If Cooper sought counseling to address this horrid new self-revelation we’ve heard nothing of it, and rest assured, that’s precisely the sort of information that he and/or his agent and/or the team would be making a big deal of.

Finally, Cooper is emphatic in asserting that this is not a word he uses. Is this claim plausible? Well, Otherwise relates an incident where he got so worked up that he blurted out something that was utterly out of character. Do I believe that this happens, that people get mad and say things they don’t mean, that they call people names that they know will hurt?

Yes, I absolutely believe this. But I’m also really intuitive and I have this nuclear powered bullshit detector. I have been known to use a foul word or two. I’ve said things that would make a sailor blush. My vocabulary is a large one, and there are many, many wicked words that I have experience with. There are also words that I never use. My suspicion is that when I crack off a profanity-laced rant featuring my chosen epithets that they roll somewhat elegantly off my tongue. I imagine I might sound less fluid were I to try out new words mid-conniption.

So the question is, when you watch that video and hear Cooper in context, when you admire his rage in full flight, and then he says that isn’t a word he uses, do you believe him?

I don’t. To my ears the word sounds very much at home in his mouth. I grew up in a place where that word was common daily usage and Cooper isn’t the first Southerner I’ve heard bust it out in anger. When I watch that video, I am reminded more of that world and the people in it than I am of people who do not have that sort of racist language in their vocabularies.

I may be wrong. Otherwise may be right. I don’t know Riley Cooper and he may be telling us the straight-up truth in his recent public statements. If he is, I hope the counseling helps and that he learns from this mistake and goes on to be an example for a society trying to claw its way up out of an unspeakable history of prejudice.

I may be wrong. But I doubt it.

Predicting Chelsea’s Starting 11 for Next Season (or, Trying to Read Mourinho’s Inscrutable Mind)

sideshow-Like everyone else with a blue shirt, I’ve been thinking about what Jose Mourinho’s reappointment will mean for Chelsea next season. Players are always coming and going, and this is never more true than when a new manager comes in, especially when that manager has a very different philosophy than his predecessors. History doesn’t suggest that we should expect a fire sale – The Special One has a long track record of building intelligently around inherited talent – but it’s also true that the roster, as currently comprised, is lacking in certain areas that Jose 2.0 is going to want to address. Continue reading Predicting Chelsea’s Starting 11 for Next Season (or, Trying to Read Mourinho’s Inscrutable Mind)

Racism in football: FIFA adopts the Dr. Sammy Plan

CATEGORY: Racism in SportsA couple of weeks ago I went off on FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, over the issue of racism in world football. The impetus for that post was the racist abuse of AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli by AS Roma fans in a Serie A match. If you recall, Blatter was appalled!

I noted that racism in European football was certainly nothing new and that the sports governing bodies had done pretty much nothing about it. Specifically, I wrote:

The failure to stop an undesired action by an individual or group is a function of either a) a lack of power, or b) a lack of will. There’s not a lot FIFA can do about the racism of fans as they share a pint in the pub after the game, perhaps, but there’s a great deal they can do in the stadiums. For instance, in yesterday’s match the game could have been suspended and resumed later in an empty stadium. AS Roma could be fined and docked points in the standings. If none of these measures achieve the desired result over a set period of time, the club could be relegated to Serie B. And so on.

So imagine my surprise earlier today when fellow Chelsea FC supporter (and occasional S&R commenter) Bret Higgins forwards this item along.

FIFA racism measures could see teams expelled or relegated

Teams could be relegated or expelled from competitions for serious incidents of racism after tough new powers were voted in by Fifa.

First or minor offences will result in either a warning, fine or order for a match to be played behind closed doors.

Serious or repeat offences can now be punished by a points deduction, expulsion or relegation.

Jeffrey Webb, head of Fifa’s anti-racism task force, said the decision was “a defining moment”.

He added: “Our football family is fully aware that what is reported in the media is actually less than 1% of the incidents that happen around the world.

“We’ve got to take action so that when we look to the next 20 or 50 years this will be the defining time that we took action against racism and discrimination.”

Fifa, world football’s governing body, passed the anti-racism resolution with a 99% majority at its congress in Mauritius.

Wow. It’s as though FIFA leaders read my post and said “hey, that about covers it. All in favor, say ‘aye’.” While I’m just about certain that isn’t what happened, it’s still nice to see your wisdom validated every once in awhile. Suffice it to say that FIFA has gotten the policy right and they deserve major props for finally getting serious about the dark underbelly of the beautiful game.

All that remains now is to carry through with it. That, of course, could be sticky. I don’t doubt that they’d bring the hammer down in one of football’s notorious backwaters. Booting a lower division scuffer like Hansa Rostock or Hallesche FC down the food chain another notch to make a point? You betcha. I can even see them getting medieval on a big fish/little pond outfit like, say, Steaua Bucuresti.

But what about the racist ultras in some of the world’s bigger, more profitable leagues? Would FIFA and UEFA really relegate an AS Roma, one of Italy’s more prominent sides? What about Lazio, Roma’s far more virulent (and historically fascist) neighbors? As Bret said in a Facebook exchange, if FIFA is serious about this, Italy’s second division is about to get a lot bigger. Perhaps we should expect many rounds of fines and wrist-slapping before a big club is actually punished.

We’ll find out eventually. We can certainly expect a smaller club or two to be made examples early on. We won’t know for sure how serious FIFA really is until they’re faced with repeated offenses by a major side, and the smart money says that case will emerge from Italy.

For now, though, congratulations to FIFA for laying the groundwork. This policy does all the right things, and all that’s left is to enforce it.