Cold-blooded connections

October 6th, 2010  |  Tags: ,  |  1 Comment

Almost every American sports media outlet is aggressively covering the best sports news I’ve heard in decades, but I like Mike Florio’s take and this insight in particular:

The parallels between Moss and Tarkenton are eerie.  Both players started their careers with the Vikings and spent six years with the team.  Both players were gone for five years.  Both players eventually returned.

The Tarkenton–Moss parallel had occurred to me before, but even as the climate in Minnesota grew more hospitable to Moss’s return, I never thought it could actually happen.

Welcome home, Randy.

Doping and cancer

May 14th, 2010  |  Tags: , , ,  |  Leave a comment

Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing will be suspended for four games at the beginning of this season for failing a drug test at the beginning of last season. This briefly scandalized some subset of football fans and journalists, since last season was Cushing’s first year, and he had been awarded the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Instead of stripping him of the award, the AP held a re-vote, and Cushing wound up keeping the honor. It’s a ridiculous story that reflects poorly on an individual athlete, on the AP, and on the NFL, but more people have written about this than I have.

The interesting part of this saga from my perspective is that Cushing was caught using human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG. I don’t follow baseball or the Olympics all that closely and am thus not an expert on the details of sports doping; I only know of the natural ways that this substance might occur in your body. Specifically, elevated hCG either means that you’re pregnant or that you have testicular cancer. Other tumor markers can be affected by other factors (physical stress, alcohol abuse, etc.), but hCG is very useful since abnormal hCG levels exclusively correlate with pregnancy or cancer. Cushing was not parking in the “expectant mothers” space outside of Reliant Stadium last September, so this suggests that the only natural explanation for his elevated hCG would be cancer.

There are unnatural ways that one might exhibit elevated hCG. As I’ve learned since this story came out, hCG is used to stimulate testosterone production after anabolic steroid use. It seems likely that Cushing may have come by his hCG this way, especially since he was recovering from a preseason knee injury when he failed the doping test (and since he hasn’t died of cancer or given birth in the last few months). Indeed, it is essentially impossible that his elevated test results could be explained without artificial hCG introduction.

The simple physiological facts make Cushing’s recent press conference, in which he denied doping, insinuated that his positive test results led him to believe that he had cancer, and pledged to find a natural explanation for his failed test, all the more ridiculous. Football teams keep millions of dollars worth of imaging devices in their practice facilities and stadiums, and professional athletes routinely receive expensive MRI scans after even trivial injuries, but we are expected to believe that the Texans’ medical staff were unwilling or unable to give Cushing an ultrasound or follow-on blood work? We’re supposed to believe that Cushing actually thought that he had a germ cell tumor — a hyper-aggressive disease that can kill a healthy young man in a matter of weeks if left alone — somewhere in his body but went on to play a season of football instead of seeking treatment?

I’m not sure whether this PR tactic reflects Cushing’s stupidity or his temerity.


May 8th, 2010  |  Tags: , , ,  |  1 Comment

According to this article in the Christian Science Monitor, an anthropologist at MPI in Leipzig is claiming to have shown that some contemporary humans are the distant descendants of human-neanderthal pairings from 50,000–80,000 years ago.


I don’t know; it hardly seems plausible to me.

Drafting and discrimination

April 27th, 2010  |  Tags: ,  |  Leave a comment

I wonder sometimes the extent to which NFL front offices are subject to federal labor laws when choosing to draft or not to draft players, specifically because of stories like this:

Just before the draft, we heard the most offensive job interview question we can imagine. Dez Bryant was asked if his mom was a prostitute.

Such a question is unbelievably gauche, but asking about the occupation of an applicant’s parents is out of bounds no matter what that occupation happens to be. (See question #14 here.) Could a player sue for employment discrimination if they were asked an improper question by team X and then fell past that team on draft day?

(Since he’s a football journalist and a labor attorney, one would assume that Mike Florio would have an opinion on this matter.)

Curse you, Favre

August 19th, 2009  |  Tags: , , ,  |  Leave a comment

I had been intending to order tickets to the Vikings’ home opener for about a week, and had been looking forward to taking my dad and my son to the game. (The team had been running a great package deal with free parking, etc., for the home opener, which made it an easy choice.) On the evening of August 17, I almost placed an order, but then I thought it would be better to wait until the morning: to make sure Dad was free and see whether or not Andrea thought it would be a good idea to take the lad.

Those of you who have had any exposure to the sporting media in the last day or so know what happened the next morning: as I tried to order tickets via the web browser on my phone1, I learned that my favorite football team had just crossed the Rubicon by signing the efficient cause of my second 2005 New Year’s resolution2, and that fans were mobbing the Vikings’ practice facility and purchasing tickets and memorabilia at staggering, tulip-bubble rates. As you might imagine, I was unable to secure tickets.

So this year will, I suppose, be fairly similar to previous years. I will still be cheering when Brett Favre completes passes to Vikings players. However, I’m not sure which moral of this story is more troubling: the idea that everyone’s favorite Everyman can lie his way out of training camp, or the idea that I should be punished for delaying an impulse purchase.

1 Why is this so painful, Ticketmaster? It’s not like mobile Safari is a niche platform.
2 Namely: “Cease allowing televised sporting events to affect blood pressure, pulse, or frequency of profane/malicious utterances.”

The candidates on MNF

November 3rd, 2008  |  Tags: , ,  |  3 Comments

I just saw the much-hyped halftime interviews with the two presidential candidates. As you might expect, Berman’s quesions were largely breezy and insubstantial. Sen. Obama had a far better answer to the “What would you change about sports?” query (college football playoffs, vs. Sen. McCain’s concern about winning the war on performance-enhancing drugs) and seemed more vital overall, but he did egregiously misuse the first-person reflexive pronoun when he urged everyone to be sure to exercise their franchise “whether you’re supporting Sen. McCain or myself.” I’ll call it a push.

As much as each ad for Monday Night Football increased my dread for the prospect of ESPN injecting itself into the political process — it’s not hard to imagine the rush to the l.c.d. there1 — I think the format worked well for both candidates and served as sort of a palate cleanser before Election Day. Each was offered an opportunity to banter, elevate himself above the sludge of the campaign season, and give a weary republic, for an instant, a glimpse of why anyone liked either of these guys in the first place.

1 e.g. “What’s the most tired sports metaphor you can think of for your campaign?” “Next question.”, or an endless bracketed tournament of “Greatest Campaign Gaffes of All Time!” with commentary by Stephen A. Smith, Joe Thiesmann, and Eric Wynalda.


August 28th, 2008  |  Tags: , ,  |  Leave a comment

Football season is blissfully close — and, with it, the only time of the year that I actually watch television. As always, I feel compelled to revisit the perennial question: have those NHTSA advertisements really cut back on the number of people driving around in vehicles shoulder-full of booze?

I’d appreciate any hard data on this question.

Crossing the Rubicon, again

August 3rd, 2008  |  Tags:  |  Leave a comment

The Green Bay Packers, no longer able to keep newly-unretired quarterback Brett Favre from reporting for training camp, have issued a statement about Favre and their intentions for him. The release is not kind to the quarterback and looks to me like a craven attempt to maintain some trade value for a disgruntled player, but one image stands out in a morass of clumsy public-relations cant:

As a result of his decision, we invested considerably in a new and different future without Brett and we were obviously moving in that direction. That’s why this wasn’t easy. Having crossed the Rubicon once when Brett decided to retire, it’s very difficult to reorient our plans and cross it again in the opposite direction – but we’ll put this to our advantage.

One wonders where Packers president Mark Murphy acquired his cultural literacy. The entire point of crossing the Rubicon is that one can’t cross back. (Perhaps, after Murphy is done playing in the Rubicon, he will re-tie the Gordian knot.)

Whether or not the management team of an American football franchise were aware of the provenance and implications of the Rubicon idiom, it seems unlikely that comparing one’s self to Caesar is rhetorically wise. Very few press releases imply that the writers will be hailed as victors in the near-term but establish a dictatorship and then be brutally murdered by former allies.


Madison Mustangs

June 24th, 2008  |  Tags: ,  |  2 Comments


My father and I went to see the Madison Mustangs host the West Allis Predators this weekend. Both teams are members of the IFL, a Milwaukee-based semipro league; admission was $6 and included a meet-and-greet with Ron Dayne. (I saw Mr. Dayne but did not chat with him.) You can see some of my photos from the event if you’d like; a brief review follows.

The game wasn’t particularly competitive — West Allis got shellacked, with their only score coming on an interception return — and the technical quality of play roughly compared to a small-college game. Some series were thick with penalties, to the point where the drive time was overwhelmingly dominated by officials congregating and re-spotting the ball rather than by huddling and play execution; some special-teams plays in particular saw the FieldTurf transformed into a silk tulip patch. Finally, the stadium’s use of incidental music seemed more accidental — too-long silences followed by pastiche-like, sub-phrase snippets of pop song hooks, with the end result being that it was never clear that the sound board was operated deliberately.

These are quite minor complaints, though, and almost irrelevant. The important question is: is it worth going? I can’t really say “yes” emphatically enough. The game was a whole lot of fun. The players approach the game with the sort of palpable zeal you can only rarely detect in pro sports; I didn’t see anyone taking plays off. The playcalling schemes are in general rather less complex than in pro or college ball, but the coaches seem far more willing to resort to trickery. In Saturday’s game, for example, I saw a fake extra point pass successfully converted and — even more impressively — a fake punt run attempted with about 22 yards to go. (The latter wasn’t successful, but the punter came close enough to make it exciting.) The crowd (over 1,000, I’d guess) was enthusiastic and the overall experience seemed kid-friendly (if your kid has a later bedtime than mine); there were a lot of kids in attendance. I’ll definitely go to another Mustangs home game.