(5:30 AST: One trip to the Dr's office later, and ready to post, finally!)
It’s American Thanksgiving, and that always means two things in the world of sports. The first, and most important, we will discuss in a bit. The other is the annual tradition of sports journalists doing columns and reports listing the worst of the sports year. They refer to these items as “turkeys.”
Well, not really. Don’t get me wrong; I get it. Image-conscious America sees the turkey as a ridiculous, stupid, ugly, flightless (remember WKRP, anyone?) bird, which has the sole purpose of furnishing the tables of lavish meals where folks can fill their already overstuffed food-holes. So then, what better symbol for the stupidity of well-known sports figures, especially on this particular holiday, right?
The problem is, real wild turkeys are nothing like this. In fact, no less a figure than the sainted (in the eyes of Americans) Benjamin Franklin expressed the desire that the turkey be considered the US National Bird, not the Bald Eagle, which he thought cowardly for its propensity for stealing prey from smaller birds. Wild turkeys, unlike the ones bred for eating, are lean, and fast, capable of running at speeds of up to 32-40 km/h (20-25 miles/h) and flying (yes, flying) almost 90 km/h. Also, not only do turkeys have excellent camouflage and sleep in trees, making them difficult to find, but they are also intelligent, and have a 270 degree field of vision and excellent hearing, making them hard to sneak up on.
Is this an example of lazy sports journalism? Please. I’m just getting warmed-up.
Now, back to the lists. Some have a more localized flavour, tailored to a specific region, whereas others, like the one on the Sports Illustrated website encompasses a much broader spectrum. One of the problems I have is that it’s all just too easy. Without even looking at the SI one, for example, I’d be willing to bet that any sports enthusiast would be able to anticipate what it contains; replacement refs, NHL, drug cheats, loudmouths, criminal behaviour, A-Rod. Turkeys? More like fish in a barrel.
The other problem I have is the hypocrisy. You want bone-headedness? As a sports journalist, why not just look at your peers; or, for that matter, yourself. There were too many examples of sports media behaving badly this year, but for me, they stood out in three distinct areas:
The NFL replacement referee debacle – I have a particular problem with any list that includes the replacement refs’ poor performance without calling out the real culprits: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL owners for whom he works. Let me get this straight, sports media: the NFL hires unqualified workers, they do a bad job, and somehow, it’s the workers’ fault? I discussed in another column the idea that leading sports journalists acted as shills for the league by understating the damage to the game that the referee lockout was doing, but it bears mentioning again. Peter King at Sports Illustrated wrote hundred (thousands?) of words complaining in detail (due to his inside sources) about how awful the officiating was. He even discussed the incident where the Titans were mistakenly awarded an extra 12 penalty yards in overtime on the same drive on which they kicked the winning FG, then had the nerve (or lack of awareness) to state that, “It's only a matter of time before some gaffe like a 27-yard penalty or two extra challenges costs some team a game it should have won.” King wasn’t the only example, just one of the most high profile. Not only did the lockout affect the outcomes of games, but it also had the extra distasteful effect of encouraging players and coaches to bend the rules. Some coaches attempted to intimidate replacement refs, which was bad enough, whereas 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh outright cheated by asking for timeouts he must have known by rule that he wasn’t entitled to. At least Harbaugh’s cheating didn’t literally hurt anyone. I saw a lot of hits like this one by Denver’s Joe Mays on Houston’s Matt Schaub:
NBA player Jeremy Lin – Lin, an American of Taiwanese descent, took the league by storm in early 2012, making headlines for his spectacular, clutch play. Lin played his college basketball at Harvard, and stated in interviews that he heard racist taunts from fans at every Ivy League school at which he played road games, so he was used to ignoring boorish behaviour. Little did he know that his sudden ascendance would turn the sports media into Mickey Rooney from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Poor Jeremy, not to mention his family, friends, and the rest of the non-knuckle-dragging public, were subjected to a litany of racial stereotypes, slurs, and bad puns. Suspensions were given, employees terminated, apologies issued. A potentially great story was ruined. Professional sports journalism at its finest.
Warren Sapp – This former player, current NFL Network employee, and all-around idiot deserves his own section (And I’m not getting into his personal problems, which are numerous). During the investigation into the Saints’ bounty allegations, Sapp inexplicably outed former Saints player Jeremy Shockey as the “snitch” who informed to the league. I despise this cowardly attitude, this perpetuation of the idea that someone who informs proper authorities that something wrong is being done is a “snitch,” when in fact a person who has the courage to do this displays the type of character of which Sapp is incapable. Oh, and Sapp was wrong anyway.
Later in the year, when Sapp was promoting his book, he offered some weak defences for some of his dirty play during his career. Again, I take issue, especially when one of these, a facemask, tore up Jerry Rice’s knee.
Then there was the Brandon Marshall fiasco. On a radio program, Sapp made disparaging comments about Chicago WR Marshall (fast-forward to the 6 minute mark):
Ignoring (if you can) Sapp’s tragically-comic use of the words “relevance” and “conscious,” this is what is being presented here: A so-called professional sports journalist is criticizing an athlete for comments that the athlete made about another former player. There are a few problems, though. First, Marshall made comments about Sterling Sharpe, Shannon Sharpe’s brother, after Sterling made comments critical of Marshall’s play. Second, Marshall apologized to Sterling Sharpe. Third, this incident took place in 2010, so why is Sapp even bringing it up? My fourth problem is obvious; using slurs like that, particularly when referring to someone who has an admitted medical condition, is about as low as it gets. The hypocrisy of someone like Warren Sapp upbraiding anyone for their behaviour, is, well, it would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.
So, that’s my list. Just don’t call them turkeys, because to do so would be an insult to a noble bird.
Oh, and one more thing about turkeys: they’re social birds. According to experts, "If you throw an apple to a group of turkeys, they'll play with it together, (K)ind of like football." Just one more reason why I love turkeys.
Texans at Lions
Texans travelling on a short week, after a tougher than expected outing against the Jags. They should be able to handle the Lions, but it will be close. Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Arian Foster, as well as the Houston defence, worked much too hard on Sunday, and will be tired against a Lions team that is aggressive on defence and like to sling it on offence. Winner: Texans
Washington at Cowboys
Expect the Cowboys to aggressively pursue RGIII in this one. The Washington phenom will do his damage, but Romo and associates will do more against Washington’s sub-par defence. Winner: Cowboys
Patriots at Jets
Not an incredible distance for the Pats to travel, so being on the road will not be a huge disadvantage on the short week. Pats are missing key players on offence (Gronk) and defence (Chandler Jones), which will help the Jets’ cause. Still, I just can’t see the Jets’ offence being able to hold its own against red-hot Tom Brady. Winner: Patriots
Happy Thanksgiving, my American readers, wherever you are!