Category Archives: Sports

Not the First Time

This is not the first time the MAGA Party (and its predecessor the GOP) tried to overturn women’s rights to equal protection under the law.  And if you wonder why this post is listed under “sports” instead of “politics” or “culture,” that is because the focus of this entry has nothing to do with Roe v. Wade, the Dobbs decision or the draconian efforts by MAGA-dominated legislatures to “punish” women who dare to want control over their own health care.

Today’s topic is Title IX of the Civil Rights Act.  Based on the Fourteenth Amendment principle of equal treatment under the law ratified four years AFTER the Arizona ban on abortion (sorry, I could not miss that opportunity), Congress passed and President Richard Nixon signed the bill which amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by adding Title IX which reads:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

There was just one problem.  At a time when the Supreme Court actually read the text of the Constitution or of laws, the justices rightfully focused on the word “program,”   In 1984, the Court ruled in the case of Grove City College v. Bell that “program” must be taken literally.  In other words, alleged discrimination under the act only applied when someone was denied access to the specific program or activity to which federal funding or subsidies applied.  Therefore, athletic programs, which seldom received federal funding (as was a school lunch program), were not subject to Title IX, even if that was more limited than Congress intended.

To remedy the situation, Senate Edward Kennedy introduced Senate Bill 557, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987, adding that Title IX and all other parts of the Civil Rights Act applied when federal funds were accepted for programs that were “any part” of an institution’s operations.  For example, Title IX would apply to athletic programs regardless whether federal funds were dedicated to that specific program or activity. The bill passed in the Senate on January 28, 1988 by a vote of 75-14.  Likewise, it passed in the House of Representatives on March 2, 1988 by a vote of 315-98.  On March 16, President Reagan vetoed SB 557, despite a warning from then House Speaker Jim Wright a veto would be “ill advised.”  In his veto message to Congress, Reagan restated the paradox that today still haunts the MAGA party.

The Congress should enact legislation designed to eliminate invidious discrimination and to ensure equality of opportunity for all Americans while preserving their basic freedoms from governmental interference and control. Regrettably, the bill presented to me fails to achieve that objective.

In other words, people are entitled to basic freedoms as long as there are no mechanisms to enforce them.

Fortunately, enough Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to override the veto by a vote of 73-24 despite then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s warning:

S. 557, the so-called Civil Rights Restoration Act, would take away people’s civil rights to be left alone by the Government, to worship as they see fit, and to pursue their livelihood without having to file forms in triplicate with a giant, impersonal bureaucracy every step of the way. Overall, this bill promises less freedom and more government in every corner of America.

The same day the House followed suit and overrode Reagan’s veto by a vote of 292-133.  Note, however, that in both chambers some Republicans who had voted “yea” for the original bill switched their vote in support of the veto (10 in the Senate and 35 in the House).  Sound familiar?  A precursor of MAGA flip flops on the border security bill.  “I am for it until the head of our party tells us to kill it.”

Believe it or not, I am not sharing this detailed account of a political debate from four decades ago just to prove that MAGA hypocrisy about small government is nothing new.  My real objective is to demonstrate to the growing number of Americans who believe that a party’s policy positions do not matter that they, in fact, matter a lot.

Last week, the ESPN broadcast of the women’s NCAA basketball championship game drew an audience of 18.867 million viewers.  In contrast, the men’s broadcast, which was simulcast on three cable networks, pulled 14.823 million viewers.  But for Title IX and the 1988 amendments, the prospect for women’s basketball to have outpaced its men’s counterpart would be unimaginable.  Likewise, the quality of talent on the LPGA tour would be diminished without the opportunities for young girls to compete in golf during high school and college.  Not to mention the success of the USA women’s soccer team in World Cup and Olympic competition (17 of the 18 members of 2021 Olympic champion USA squad played collegiate soccer).

So, this year, when Donald Trump, MAGA members of Congress or their surrogates talk about government overreach, they may pretend they are protecting your freedom.  When, in fact, they are doing just the opposite, reducing your opportunities and choices.

POSTSCRIPT: @NotMe Era

There was an uncomfortable moment at the end of the South Carolina-Iowa women’s NCAA final that had nothing to do with the score or the officiating.  Once the final outcome was no longer in doubt, both coaches called timeouts to pull their stars off the court to standing ovations.  As they walked down the line of coaches and teammates, there were hugs for every female.  Yet when they came to a male assistant coach, they kept their distance.  I wondered if this was a precaution precipitated by the inappropriate actions of the head of the Spanish soccer federation Luis Rubiales, who kissed a member of his country’s World Cup team on the lips.  If so, it is a sad commentary how the “rules of engagement” have changed in response to unacceptable behavior by celebrities, coaches or a former president of the United States who believe “when you’re famous, you can do whatever you want.”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

In Case You Forgot

Every Super Bowl has a back story.  Sometimes, that behind the scenes drama is so compelling, the event is referred to by a nickname.  When brothers Jim and John, head coaches of the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, respectively, faced off in Super Bowl XLVII (2013) it was tagged “the Harbaugh Bowl.”  And each annual contest between the NFL’s best is memorialized in a single image.  Last night’s game was no exception.

Welcome to the “Nepo Baby Bowl.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it refers to celebrities who are born to famous parents with similar careers.  Among the most famous is Gwyneth Paltrow, daughter of actress Blythe Danner and director/producer Bruce Paltrow.  Or Martin Sheen’s sons, Charlie and Emilio Estevez.  The field during Super Bowl LVIII was littered (pun intended) with nepo babies.

  • Eventual MVP Patrick Mahomes is the offspring of former New York Mets pitcher Pat Mahomes.
  • 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey learned the game from his father Ed, who was an All-American receiver at Stanford University and spent 13 seasons in the NFL including three Super Bowl championships.
  • And of course, there is 49er head coach Kyle Shanahan who is following in his father Mike’s footsteps.  Among the storylines for Sunday’s game was, “Would this be the day when son Kyle joins his dad as head coach of a Super Bowl champion?”

But, as Arlo Guthrie would say, that’s not what I came here to talk about.  Instead, I want to go back to the defining image during last night’s broadcast.  If the game itself was of primary interest, the outcome might be captured by one of three photographs.  For some, it was the moment Chiefs linebacker Leo Chenal blocked Jake Moody’s extra point.  Or when a punt inadvertently struck 49er Darrel Luter’s foot which led to a Chiefs touchdown on the next play. Or Mahomes’ three-yard touchdown pass in overtime to relatively unknown Mecole Hardman which sealed the Chiefs’ victory.

Maybe you tuned in for the entertainment provided by a host of performers before the game and culminating in Usher’s halftime performance, a soul and rap montage, reminiscent of an earlier time when Dick Clark would tour the United States with his “Caravan of Stars.”  For the record, I find the halftime extravaganza, regardless who headlines the performance, a great opportunity to start solving the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle.  To the chagrin of 49er fans, once again, the extended mid-game break turned out to be a momentum changer.

Finally, no discussion of Super Bowl LVIII would be complete without a reference to Tay-Tay and Kel-Kel.  For those who bet on the over/under, during the game, Taylor Swift appeared on-screen 12 times for a total of 53 seconds.  But the main event was the couple’s on-field reunion after the trophy ceremony.

Even Joe Biden’s deep state could not have pulled off such a complete American experience, though he trolled the MAGA/QAnon snowflakes with the Tweet, “Just like we drew it up.”  But the moment and image that truly represented the America we so often think is in the rearview mirror occurred before the kickoff.  It was a brief shot of Chief’s defensive tackle Chris Jones during Reba McIntyre’s rendition of The Star Spangled Banner (below).

Jones is no “nepo baby.”  He was born in Houston, Mississippi, the son of a furniture factory worker.  According to his profile on the Chiefs’ website, when Jones was in the fourth grade, his father was jailed for nearly a decade after a DUI arrest.  Despite the odds, Jones proved his football credentials first at Houston High School, then Mississippi State University and as a second-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs.

One can only imagine the pent-up emotions which produced that tear.  Having made his mother and father proud.  Gratitude to those who contributed to his development as a football player and a selfless member of his community.  Remembering the bedroom at his grandmother’s home he shared with 10 other family members while he was in high school.  Or the physical contrast between Allegiant Stadium and his humble surroundings as a child.

At a time when so many Americans question whether the United States is still the land of opportunity, ask Chris Jones.  Recalling his own journey, he would likely echo comedian Yakov Smirnoff’s tag line, “Is this a great country or what?”

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

Freezed Out

Was it coincidence or some cosmic reminder that yesterday, Americans saw a crime committed on live television, almost 60 years to the day after the Sunday when ABC News aired the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby in real time?  To add to the  paranormal nature of these two events, both offenses took place at approximately the same time, noon on the East Coast.  And even though both breaches took place in plain sight, neither was without controversy which generated a multitude of conspiracy theories.

Of course, I am talking about the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s decision to choose Alabama over Florida State as the fourth and final participant in this year’s quest for a national championship.  As with any crime, we need to ask, “Who was the perpetrator who had the motive, opportunity and skill to commit such as felony?”

Was it the selection committee?  Is this what happens when the star chamber consists of a majority of gray-haired, white guys with names like Chris, Mitch, Boo, Chet, Warde, Jim, Mark, David and Gene who are more beholden to memories of the past than the possibilities of the future?  Most are current or past coaches and athletic directors at universities such as Nebraska, Kentucky, NC State, the Naval Academy, Baylor, Utah and Michigan.  Their academic backgrounds include degrees in sports administration, communications and business. The only female, Kelly Whiteside, is also the only sports journalist on the committee.  Where are the humanities graduates who might remind the committee Americans relish stories like those written by Horatio Alger about impoverished youths who, against the odds, make it to the upper rungs of society’s ladder?  Or the theologian who could argue what could be more compelling than the next David and Goliath story?

In this age of sports analytics, one might assume the committee would defer to the only member, Rod West, who holds a degree in mathematics which he earned at Notre Dame.  Since the committee’s deliberations are not public we will never know if West pointed out the Atlantic Coast Conference’s record against non-conference Power 5 conference opponents (10-9)  was better than the Southeast Conference (7-9).  Or that head-to-head the ACC won six of the ten games against SEC teams.  Or, of the four the SEC won, one was against Virginia with 3-9 record and two were against Georgia Tech (6-6).

Yes, the SEC has been the premiere football conference for most of the 21st century.  However, that is hardly the case this year.  But for the worst coaching decision of 2023, this would have been indisputable.  On November 25, Alabama was trailing Auburn 20-24 with 42 seconds remaining in the game.  The Crimson Tide faced a fourth and goal at the Auburn 31 yard line.  Instead of blitzing Bama quarterback Jalen Milroe or even calling for a standard four-man rush, Auburn coach Hugh Freeze employed a three-man front line which was more interested in containing a Milroe run than forcing a short pass which would have given the Auburn backfield more than enough opportunities to stop the receiver before reaching the goal line.

According to ChatGPT, on a typical passing play, the quarterback has 2.5 to 3.0 seconds to release the ball.  Freeze’s no-man rush gave Milroe just over six seconds to set up the play that won the game.  Otherwise, Alabama would have had two regular season losses and would not have been part of the playoff conversation.  They would, however, still played in the SEC championship game this past Saturday.  The victory over Georgia by a two-loss team would have made it quite clear the SEC was unworthy of even one shot at the national title.

Now consider Florida was just a 1-point favorite when it was still unclear whether second string QB Tate Rodemaker or third string QB Brock Glenn would be leading the Seminoles.  When it was announced Rodemaker would not play, many thought FSU was finished.  But FSU’s defense carried the team to a 16-6 victory.  For which the committee suggested FSU, without their star quarterback, had no chance against any of the other three teams in the playoffs.  Did the committee never hear of the 1963 Chicago Bears which rode the league’s and maybe the all-time best defense to an NFL championship?  Or Don Larson pitching a no-hitter in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series.

Defense has won championships in other major sports. This season we might have learned whether the same thing was possible in college football.  Sadly, we will not get the chance.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

Championship at the Potomac River

This weekend marks the end of the 2022-23 PGA Tour season with the third and final event in the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.  The seeding of the remaining 30 players is based on their performance throughout the year and the first two playoff tournaments in Memphis and Chicago.  Since 2021 the reward for such performance has been what can only be called a reverse handicap.  The #1 seed (Scottie Scheffler) tees off this afternoon at 10 under par.  This advantage is reduced for the other participants based on their seeding with those in the 26-30 positions opening their round at even par.  In other words, for a fan favorite like Jordan Spieth (#29 seed) to take down Scheffler, he needs to outscore Scheffler by 11 strokes, a tall order to say the least.

In one more Carl Jung moment of synchronicity, I realized it was no coincidence that the finale of the current PGA season is ending the weekend after the first debate among eight of the contenders for the Republican nomination for primary.  Consider the parallels.  First, on the same day the PGA Tour elite tee off in round one, Donald Trump has an 8:00 pm tee off time at the Fulton County jail to begin a judicial contest which may determine whether he spends four years in the White House or more in prison. 

Second, for both the debate and the Tour Championship, the elephant(s) in the room are those who are not on the stage.  Trump and Brooks Koepka.  For non-golf aficionados, Koepka was among those who abandoned the PGA Tour for the Saudi funded LIV Tour.  Yet he remains #13 in the Official World Golf Rankings and solidified that status by winning the PGA Championship  (the second of four major championships) in May.  [Note: The PGA and PGA Tour are two separate entities which is why he was able to play in the PGA Championship.]  The only difference between Trump and Koepka is the fact Trump, having “qualified” for the RNC debate, chose to sit it out, while Koepka was banned from playing in the FedEx Cup playoffs even though he was “high enough in the polls” to qualify.

Third, and most important, the race for the presidential nomination, as it stands today according to the FiveThirtyEight.com average of polls, is comparable to the seeding system for the FedEx Cup.  The bottom tier based on their inability to meet the RNC criteria to participate in the first debate–Doug Burgum, Will Hurd, Perry Johnson, Francis Suarez and Larry Elder–begin their quest at even par.  Mike Pence, Tim Scott, Nikki Haley and Chris Christie make up the next tier and start the election cycle at three or four under par.  Vivek Ramaswamy is seeded third at 10 under par.  Ron DeSantis is second at 15 under.  The prohibitive favorite Trump tees off at 52 under par.  Just imagine if Scottie Scheffler had a 37 stroke advantage over second place Victor Hovland and even more over the rest of the field.

But these two events differ in one very important aspect.  The presidential contest is actually two contests, one for the nomination and one for the White House.  The PGA Tour equivalent would require players seeded #2 through #30 holding a tournament to decide who takes on #1 seed Scheffler or “incumbent” FedEx champ Rory one-on-one for the FedEx Cup.  Which explains why non-Trump participants in the race to be crowned the ultimate winner next November are boxed into a corner.

To win the nomination championship they need to convince a significant portion of the 35 percent of GOP primary voters who are always-Trump to see one of them as the heir to MAGA-dom.  That explains why six of the eight participants in last night’s debate raised their hands in the affirmative when asked, “If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, would you still support him if he is convicted of a crime?”  That same response, however, makes them less acceptable in the general election to independents and anti-Trump Republicans who view anyone who says Trump is innocent as living on Earth2 and a continuing threat to democracy.

For a political party that prides itself on playing the long game as evidenced by their engagement in state and local elections and control of the Supreme Court, it is shocking no one took the advice of former and disillusioned Republicans who suggested viable presidential aspirants wait until 2028.  Their realistic chance of future success depends on letting Trump take the wind out of his own sails before leaving port to navigate the national political seas.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP

 

The Dog Days of Reaganomics

“The Dog Days of Summer” is an expression that one hears often in baseball. The phrase comes from the very challenging days of playing baseball in the heat of the summer. Not only are players contending with the heat, but they are also contending with the length of the baseball season. The excitement of the beginning of the season has certainly waned, and the end of the season with championships on the line is too far away to make a difference. Added to this is the sad reality that some teams recognize that their championship hopes have all but been shattered. Championships are won or lost in these “dog days of summer.”

~Dr. Steve Horn/LOUSIANABAPTISTS.ORG

Sometimes you find the best definitions for a word or phrase in the most unlikely places.  In this case, Dr. Horn used baseball as a metaphor for life.  For Christians, he compares it to the time between the excitement of rebirth and the ultimate reward of eternal life in heaven.  I may not share his belief in salvation, but from his perspective, the metaphor is valid. 

When friends and family tell me they no longer pay attention to the news, what I believe they are saying is, “These are the dog days of political discourse.”  I understand completely.   The excitement of Joe Biden’s victory in 2020 has waned.  And the 2024 election is still too far in the distance.

I too find the heat and humidity of this warmest of all summers draining.  I prefer the comfort of air conditioning, and rather than watching the evening talk shows, I now make a nightly habit of following the Baltimore Orioles’ hold on the top spot in the American League East. (NOTE: I became an Orioles’ fan during my time as a graduate student at John Hopkins University (1971-73), when Memorial Stadium was a 10-minute walk from my apartment and bleacher seats were 85 cents.)

This morning, as I glanced at the AL East standings, I observed what can only be called “a metaphor within a metaphor.”  Despite a blown save last night, Baltimore is still in first place, two games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays.  Meanwhile the New York Yankees continue to go back and forth with the Boston Red Sox for last place in the division, 11.5 games back of the Orioles.

It is no stretch to think of the Yankees as the latest incarnation of Reaganomics which depended on two theories of growth:  supply side economics, and by increasing the wealth of the rich, benefits would “trickle down” to the poorest workers. Owner Hal Steinbrenner and general manager Brian Cashman have spared no expense ($187 million this year) when it comes to supplying the team with talent. In one more example of failed “trickle down” impact, more than half of that investment ($108 million) goes toward the salaries of just three of the team’s 26 active players: Aaron Judge, Gerrit Cole, Giancarlo Stanton.  And yet, the Yankees remain a half-game out of the AL East cellar.

In contrast, the Orioles’ active roster has a combined payroll of $65 million.  Instead of buying talent, the Orioles have developed a cadre of exciting young players through what baseball writers credit as the best farm system in baseball.  And the team’s success is not likely to end any time soon.  Eight of the top 100 2023 draft choices are future Orioles, waiting in the wings, playing in the minor leagues for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides and Double-A Bowie Baysox.

Think of infrastructure, sustainable energy, workforce heath care and investment in critical  industries  as the farm team of the American economy.  Americans are better served by investments in these building blocks which can be the foundation of sustainable growth.  Massive tax cuts to a few rich people and multinational corporations may give the economy a short-term shot in the arm, but as we saw at the end of the last three GOP administrations, the benefits are short-lived ending in economic recession, higher unemployment and/or stagnant wage growth. 

The Republican Party has given this Orioles-like approach to economic policy what they thought was a derogatory name:  Bidenomics.  Their error is evident every time the president retweets one of his detractors blaming him for the bi-partisan infrastructure legislation, CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act with the tag line, “I approve this message.”  In my July 6 post, “Shoot the Messenger,” I chastised Biden’s communications team for failing to make the connection between Biden economic policies and America’s leading global standing.  Even I could not imagine Marjorie Taylor Greene and other MAGA mouthpieces would fill the gap.

For what it’s worth.
Dr. ESP