Category Archives: Sports

The Oprah Bowls

If you think participation awards are only for youth sports, think again. This year there are 44 college bowl games including the playoff games. And with 125 Division-1 schools, approximately two-thirds of all college programs had their seasons extended one more month.

You know the arguments. On the negative side:

These shiny bits of plastic have been blamed for creating an entitled generation who learned to expect adulation for the unexceptional on the playing field and later in life.

Lisa Heffernan,, august 2015

On the positive side:

A participation trophy can be a symbol of the effort and time a person put into an endeavor or it can serve as a reminder or memento for a sport or activity. 

 Jordon Roos and Brad Strand, physcial and health education america, October 2021

As I tuned into what seemed like a 24/7 parade of bowl contests on ESPN, I wondered, “How valuable is a memento of a 6-6 team playing another 6-6 team in a stadium with more empty seats than a Milli Vanilli reunion concert?” Or as was the case at today’s TaxSlayer Bowl (aka Gator Bowl) in Jacksonville, 10-3 Wake Forest scrimmaged with 5-7 Rutgers (aka Texas A&M), and even students and alumni from the competing schools were few and far between.

Lewis Black

Once again the run-up to bowl season was more exciting than the games themselves. Who will play whom? Where will they play? Who will get snubbed? It reminded me of Lewis Black’s 2008 comedy tour, appropriately titled, “Anticipation.” He opens as follows:

This moment, which we are sharing together right now, I promise you, is as good as it is going to get. So, I think we should quit while we’re ahead. It’s been great. Let’s leave well enough alone. There is no moment better than this moment when we are anticipating the actual moment itself.

Lewis black, Anticipation, 2008

How do you make the best moment when it comes to college bowls even better? On the Sunday following the conference championship games, have Oprah Winfrey host the televised bowl selection program. I can hear her now as she points to the coaches in the audience. “You get a bowl bid! You get a bowl bid! Everyone gets a bowl bid!”

Best wishes for a happy, HEALTHY and rewarding 2022.

For what it’s worth.

War and Peace (and Golf)


The America of 2021 is a constant game of tug of war between high and low expectations.  At one extreme, “Team High” is all about striving.  Which billionaire will almost make it to outer space first?  Which athlete will push the envelope to perform better?  Which company has the highest market cap regardless of fundamentals? Which students will have a longer list of extracurricular activities on their resumes?

At the other extreme, “Team Low” suggests all this striving leads to unhappiness and anxiety.  Dr. Jeremy Sherman made this point in a 2014 article in Psychology Today, presenting a counter-intuitive take on an oft-told story about optimism.

The joke goes that a child was so optimistic that, to test the extent of his optimism, his parents gave him a pile of horse manure. The kid’s eyes open wide with delight. He dives into the pile and starts digging.

“What are you doing?” his parents ask.
The kid replies, “With this much manure, I’m betting there’s a pony in here!”

Imagine his disappointment when there wasn’t.

For “Team Low,” being in the game is enough.  That participation trophy is a monument to trying, even when it does not lead to success.  Taking on a challenge is its own reward.  The journey, not the destination, is the source of the highest dividends.

As in most debates, the answer is probably somewhere between these extremes.  However, there is a bigger problem which I will call “situation expectations.”  It is not uncommon that one’s definition of success or failure will depend on the specifics of a given situation.  However, in this case, individuals occasionally adjust their position in the middle of an on-going scenario.  This is sometimes referred to as “moving the goalposts,” though it is more akin to donning an opponents’ uniform in the middle of a game.

SIK Golf's Bryson DeChambeau finishes 2nd in MexicoConsider the recent exploits of the golfer we love to hate Bryson DeChambeau as an example of how expectations can change in a matter of hours.  During the second round of the BMW Championship, after an eagle on the 16th hole, DeChambeau was in reach of a 59 with one birdie on either of the last two holes.  Missed putts of 17 feet on the 17th and six feet on the 18th resulted in “only” a course and tournament record 60, 12 strokes under par.  In the post-round interview, DeChambeau did not hesitate to voice his disappointment about misreading the putt on 18.  “I wanted to make it so bad.”

Rewind the video (I know, an anachronism) to DeChambeau standing on the first tee at the start of his second round.  Imagine if someone had asked, “Would you be satisfied if you could shoot 60 today and be tied for the lead going into Saturday’s third round?”  There is only one response.  “HELL YEAH!”  Of course, the irony is that missed six foot putt on Friday was the difference between taking home the BMW trophy and losing in a six-hole playoff on to Patrick Cantlay on Sunday.

Which brings me to the question of expectations when it comes to war and peace.  Twenty years ago, in the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush rallied the international community to avenge the attack on the United States.  The goal: punish those directly responsible and disrupt potential future attacks.  Operation Enduring Freedom was initiated on September 26 when a CIA team arrived in Afghanistan to analyze the situation and identify potential anti-Taliban allies.  Soon thereafter, American and British special forces with U.S. air support pursued al-Qaeda militants in the Tora Bora region, forcing the survivors to retreat into Pakistan.  One could argue “First Tee” expectations, with the exception of capturing or killing Osama bin Laden, were met when U.S. and Afghan forces decimated the 800 remaining al-Qaeda fighters in Paktia province in March 2002.

Perhaps initial success in Afghanistan came too easy (just as it again did in Iraq).  Why stop here?  Especially when anti-Taliban Afghans from the Northern provinces, led by Hamid Karzai, were eager to take complete control of the country even though U.S. military leadership on the ground advised against supporting the broader offensive.  President Bush then moved the goal posts with the April 2002 announcement of a “Marshall Plan” for Afghanistan, financial aid accompanied by an International Security Assistance Force as a counter-insurgency measure.  A lot transpired over the next 20 years, but I will leave that to historians to parse.

Which brings us to August 2021 during which expectations rose and fell faster and more frequently than the wave at a college football game.

  • Expectation #1: An equipped and trained security force of 300,000 Afghans could hold off Taliban advances long enough for an orderly evacuation of U.S. citizens and Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) holders.
  • Expectation #2: Once Kabul fell to the Taliban, the possibility of a mass evacuation was slim and none.  On August 19, CNN foreign correspondent Clarissa Ward estimated American forces would be lucky if they got 50,000 evacuees to safety.
  • Expectation #3: Deploying 5,000 U.S. troops to secure a small geographic footprint surrounded by hostile forces (Taliban and ISIS-K) was extremely risky.
  • Expectation #4:  Sending troops to secure the evacuation would require an extension of Biden’s August 31 departure deadline.
  • Expectation #5:  Following the tragic loss of 13 service men and women, additional suicide bombings or worse, i.e. rocket attacks on departing aircraft, were likely.
  • Expectation #6: As U.S. forces began to leave, the last remaining contingent would be “sitting ducks.”

Imagine a meeting of the National Security Council in the White House situation room immediately following the fall of Kabul.  President Joe Biden asks for an honest assessment of the next 17 days.  National security advisor Jake Sullivan and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin paint the following scenario.

For a couple of days there will be complete chaos until we can secure the perimeter of the airport with approximately 5,000 troops.  By the third day we should be able to begin a round-the-clock airlift evacuating as many as 18,000 people per day.  By the departure date August 31, we estimate we can evacuate a total of 125,000 U.S. citizens and SIV recipients.

U.S. troops will need to be within close contact of Taliban forces and potential terrorists.  We cannot guarantee there will be no casualties.  We should expect 25-50.  However, we will be able to protect the airfield and planes from incoming rockets and secure the area until the last plane takes off.

Biden suggests they have painted a far too rosy picture and asks for the worse case scenario.   It is not pretty.    Decimated runways shutting down the airlift.  A filled mess hall or barracks becomes the target of an ISIS rocket.  A downed C-17 with 600 evacuees and troops killed.  Every critic and many pundits raised these possibilities, yet said nothing when they did not happen.

Out of Bounds: How to make F-word part of golfing vernacular?Which brings me to my last point about expectations.  Americans should heed the axiom, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”  [NOTE:  The origin of this phrase is attributed to Voltaire who wrote in his Philosophical Dictionary, “The best is the enemy of the good.”]  Every PGA and LPGA tour player would love to shoot an ideal score, 16 birdies and a couple of eagles for good measure.  But they have not given up the game because it is, for all practical purposes, out of reach.  Instead, they yell, “FORE,” to acknowledge the errant shot, look for opportunities to recover and know the final tally never rests on a single stroke.

For what it’s worth.


Field of Nightmares


Iowa has never hosted a Major League Baseball game, which is strange, because for so many people, Iowa cornfields have come to represent a place where the game can be played as it used to be, as it should be.

~Chelsea Janes/Washington Post

Much is being written about last night’s “Field of Dreams Game” between the Yankees and White Sox in Dyersville, Iowa, location for the 1989 film based on William Patrick Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe.   Major League Baseball (MLB) described it on Twitter as, “What a night!! Baseball remains the best!”  The New York Times touted the event as “packed full of nostalgia.”

Unfortunately, for me, someone who has two personal connections to the film and its location, last night was anything but a dream.  It was a nightmare akin to the “upside down” alternate universe in “Stranger Things.”

The first occasion on which “Field of Dreams” came alive for me was during a driving vacation when our family made a detour to Dyersville.  The three of us made our own version of the classic film.  We walked out of the corn into right field.  My daughter and I had “a catch.”  We did the wave on the three-tiered bench along the first base line a la Kevin Kosner, James Earl Jones, Amy Madigan and Gaby Hoffman.  And through the magic of stop action, duplicated the scene where a young “Moonlight” Graham crosses the base path and becomes Dr. Graham, except young and old Archibald Graham were played by my daughter and wife instead of Frank Whaley and Burt Lancaster, respectively.

The second occasion was an opportunity to discuss a pivotal moment in the movie with James Earl Jones.  When Ray Kinsella (Kosner) drops Terrence Mann (Jones) at his Boston apartment following a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, Mann makes a hand gesture as he says goodbye.  Always interested in the origin of these small but powerful cinematic moments, I asked Jones had he come up with the idea.  Or was it in the script?  He told me he adlibbed that little piece of business drawing on the body language used by casino croupiers to signal, “The hand is over.”

What I saw when I switched to the game was not the Field of Dreams I knew.  If MLB and Fox really wanted to pay homage to baseball as it is presented in both the movie and book, all they had to do was read the script.  For example, listen to what led a young Archibald Graham to hitchhike on a rural roadside where he is picked up by Kinsella and Mann.

Moonlight Graham - Wikipedia

I play baseball.  I’m looking for a place to play.  I heard that all through the Midwest, they have towns with teams.  And in some places, they’ll even find you a day job.

Or Mann’s climatic explanation of baseball as the national pastime.

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball.  America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.  It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again.  But baseball has marked the time.  This field, this game.  It’s a part of our past, Ray.  It reminds us of all that once was good…and it could be again.

“Field of Dreams” is the story of a long ago game captured by Roger Kahn in The Boys of Summer or Doris Kearns Goodwin in Wait Till Next Year or George F. Will in Boys at Work.  It is the saga of a struggling graduate student who would walk to Memorial Stadium in Baltimore and pay 85 cents for a bleacher seat or who picked up a $10 ticket to game six of the 1971 World Series.

In no way did last night have any connection to those youthful memories.  The “characters” on the field have individual salaries that dwarf the total payrolls of all the teams combined when Joe Jackson took to the outfield in Comiskey Park.  And a fan needed to be equally well off as tickets ranged from $375 to $1,210 per seat retail with many being resold online for more than $4,000.

Nor was the game played on the original field.  Instead it was “staged” in a temporary 8,000 seat stadium complete with digital scoreboard, a jumbotron and advertisements projected on green screens around the ballpark.  MLB and corporate media had produced the perfect metaphor for modern day America.  Billionaire owners and multi-millionaire players entertaining rich fans who paid more for an evening of faux nostalgia than the monthly take home pay of the average household.  A far cry from Archie Graham’s “they’ll even find you a day job.”

Field of Dreams (1989) | Sherdog Forums | UFC, MMA & Boxing DiscussionInstead of a one-off regular game in a neutral location, MLB missed a golden opportunity to honor its past.  Imagine two teams, made up of current inductees in the Baseball Hall of Fame, taking the field like “ghosts” of a past era.  And fans standing or sitting on beach chairs along the baselines, sipping lemonade served from the porch of the “Kinsella home.”  On the day my family arrived at the field, there was a pick-up game.  The score did not matter.  The sights and sounds on the field let you know there was magic in the air.  When Terrence Mann tells Kinsella, “People will come, Ray.  People will definitely come,” that is what he envisioned.

One more thing. If Fox Sports really wanted to honor the underlying theme of the film, Ray Kinsella’s relationship with his father John over Joe Jackson’s role in the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, they would have had Barry Bonds, Pete Rose and Alex Rodriguez in the broadcast booth.   That would have represented “the one true constant” associated with baseball, athletes putting themselves before team and willing to bend or break the rules to win at all costs.  Come to think of it, that would have been a perfect metaphor for America in 2021.

For what it’s worth.


“Get Off My Lawn” Olympics


Question du jour:  Can someone become a grandpa in attitude and behavior without actually having grandchildren?

Answer du jour:  Absolutely!

Case in point, the 2020 (aka 2021) Tokyo Olympics.  Before I begin to rant, this is not about any of the following:

  • Whether the games should have been held in COVID-rich Japan?
  • Donald Trump and other members of his cult rooting against American athletes.
  • Simone Biles’ “twisties.”
  • The delayed broadcast of events for which outcomes were already known due to the time difference between Florida and Tokyo.

Cycling-BMX freestylers soar on Games debut | ReutersIt is not even about my perennial bias against many Olympic events, i.e. if you cannot time, measure or keep score of an event, it is not a sport.  That is not to say I do not admire the talent and devotion  to their craft of gymnasts, divers and ice skaters.  They are athletes par excellence by definition.  “Persons who are proficient in sports and other physical exercise.” (Dictionary.COM)  This explains why I would stay up until 3:00 am to watch the final round of men’s golf or get up at 4:00 am to watch the women’s soccer team.  But would rather binge watch “Ted Lasso” every night rather than NBC’s Olympic coverage of rhythmic gymnastics, skate boarding or BMX freestyle.

My rant about this quadrennial version of the world coming together to celebrate athletic achievement focuses on the adage, “More is less.”  Oh, for the days of the first Olympiad in 1896 when there were nine contested sports–Artistic Gymnastics, Athletics, Cycling (Road & Track), Fencing, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Weightlifting, Greco-Roman Wrestling.  With the exception of “artistic gymnastics,” all met my personal definition of sports.  But even then gymnastics were described as “art” which trained experts can judge but the ultimate value resides “in the eye of beholder.”

This past fortnight, there were 339 medal events in 33 categories.  Therefore, the prime time, network coverage proved to be a highlights film, jumping from one event to another.  If you wanted to focus on any particular sport or event, you had to be the equivalent of an NSA analyst to decode its time and location.  Consider NBC’s own answer to the question, “How do I watch the Olympics on TV?”

NBC is home to the Olympics and USA, CNBC, NBCSN, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and GOLF Channel will also air coverage of the Tokyo Games. Check your local listings here. For live streaming options, events will air on, the NBC Sports app and Peacock.

I do  not have the ultimate solution, but let me suggest the following as a good start.

  • In two current Olympic sports, golf and tennis, “the world comes together to celebrate athletic achievement” almost every week.  Both have major championships for men and women.  Golf even dubs four of its annual premiere tournaments as “WORLD Golf Championships.”
  • Television and corporate sponsors created something called “The X-Games” specifically to display artistic skills not previously covered at the Olympics or lacked existing world class circuits.  These events have grown in international stature and participation.
  • Some team sports already have major international competitions, most notably men’s and women’s soccer.  World-class players whose “day job” depends on salary offers rather than nationality have a chance to play for their country every four years in the World Cup.  In contrast, basketball, baseball and softball professional competition is mostly limited to national or regional boundaries which makes the global Olympic version unique.
  • Do not give the host country discretion to add new events.  At France’s request, break dancing will makes its entry into Olympic competition.  This addition, among others, was approved by the IOC, in it’s own words, “to make the Olympic Games more urban, more youthful and more female.”  Is the IOC blind to the increase in diversity among athletes in more traditional Olympic events?
  • Focus on sports that have minimal exposure outside of the Olympic games and celebrate the heritage of 124 years of history.  Elevate the importance of events for which the Olympics is THE major international competition for a sport.

Maybe, none of this matters.  The sustainability of an international competition of this scope may be more a question of economics.  Every recent host city of the summer games has dealt with major cost overruns which make the event a money loser and less desirable.  On July 21, the IOC awarded the 2032 summer Olympics to Brisbane, Australia, not a huge surprise since Brisbane was the sole bidder.  Will the day come when there are zero applicants for the “honor” of subsidizing the games with taxpayer money.

Likewise, the economics are dependent on lucrative contracts for the television rights.  In 2011, NBC paid $12 billion for the U.S. broadcast rights through 2034, money that is recouped from advertisers who may pay as much as $200 million for advertising packages running up to and including the games themselves.

However, a steep drop in average prime time viewers from 29 million for the 2016 Rio games to 16.8 million this year could dampen advertiser enthusiasm in the future.  The New York Times reports, “NBCUniversal has offered to make up for the smaller than expected television audience by offering free ads to some companies that bought commercial time during the games.”  NBC is betting the drop in viewership was due mostly to the impacts of COVID on the spectacle nature of the games, especially the opening and closing ceremonies, and the 13 hour time difference between Tokyo and the east coast of the United States.  The network anticipates a major rebound, especially in 2028 when Los Angeles will be the host city.

Yet, it is anything but a sure bet. Suggestions for future games include paring down the number of events or spreading them across several locations with existing facilities to alleviate major construction costs.  Any option will be a balancing act of Herculean proportions, requiring the talent and preparation of an Olympic athlete.

This “honorary grandpa” wishes them good luck.

For what it’s worth.


The American Open


Collin Morikawa wins British Open for his second major at age 24There was a moment yesterday, during the presentation of the Claret Jug to Collin Morikawa, when I thought his overwhelmingly positive reception by the patrons at Royal St. George might turn to enmity.  As reported by Yahoo Sports, there was an “audible gasp” and “stir on social media” when the new champion said, “To see some of the best crowds I’ve ever seen, I look forward to my trip every year to the British (my emphasis) Open to see you guys.”  The United States does not have a monopoly on political correctness.

Some think referring to the final major each year as THE OPEN is a relatively new phenomenon.  Actually, the opposite is true.  Just ask Malcolm Booth, the communications director for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, golf’s most recognizable venue and the present day keeper of the flame.

The name of the championship hasn’t changed in 155 years.  The reason we think 155 years on there (sic) is legitimacy in calling it ‘The Open Championship’ is it really was the birthplace of open competition.  (Associated Press interview in 2016)

Hard to argue with that, except times have changed.  A century and a half ago, the event at St. Andrews was the only “open” golf competition which allowed both professionals and amateurs (as opposed to the “open era” in tennis which began in 1968).  Today, every country which now belongs to the community of golfing nations has a similar if not quite as venerable event.  The same might be said if one compares the world of George Washington with the present.  When the United States emerged as the first modern republic in 1789, if you referred to Washington as THE president, everyone knew about whom you were talking.  But imagine if, today, the secretary general of the United Nations introduced Joe Biden as THE president.  He would be greeted with more catcalls than Roger Goodell at a Patriots football game.

However, this was just one of many stories coming out of Sandwich, Kent, England.  The return of the open and its patrons. Phil Michelson’s first round 80.  Jordan Spieth’s roller coaster ride to a second place finish.  Another Oosthuizen near miss.  However, the main event was the contrast between two American players which mirrored what may be the major but least documented factor causing the current division in the American psyche.  Not partisanship or ideology or even culture.  STYLE!

At one extreme of the spectrum was Bryson DeChambeau.  In 2019, DeChambeau promised to transform himself and the game of golf by gaining 30 pounds and focusing on swing speed.  His goal?  To overpower a golf course starting from the tee box with drives that left him with short irons to almost every green.  Since re-emerging as the “bully of the fairways” in 2020, he has won three tournaments including the 2020 U.S. Open.  [NOTE:  Prior to the transformation he won five PGA tournaments from June 2017 through November 2018.]

He has two other traits which might also remind you of another American.  He believes he always has the right answer, and when he does not succeed, he looks for a scapegoat.  This latter characteristic was on full display last week when he blamed Cobra, the manufacturer of his driver, for all the errant tee shots that left him three over par, 15 strokes off the lead, at the finish of Saturday’s third round.

At the other extreme was the eventual winner Morikawa.  Above all, he paid attention to history.  He took a lesson from Tiger Wood’s 2006 Open victory at Hoylake, when he pulled out his driver only once over four days.  Prioritizing ball placement over distance, Woods avoided the overgrown rough and pot bunkers that spelled disaster for other competitors.  A similar approach served Morikawa well as he finished the tournament without a bogey on any of the final 31 holes.

This diversity in styles, a modern day fable of a hare (DeChambeau) and a tortoise (Morikawa), is why, despite the location, this Open was much more American than British.  It was a metaphor for the state of our nation’s body politic which is too often driven (pun intended) by decibel level rather than substance.  Where a belief there is nothing to learn from history competes with knowledge and experience.

There is an old saying among golfers.  “You drive for show and putt for dough.”  DeChambeau, like that other American, does put on a good show.  But the proof is in the putting.  Can you effectively finish what you started?  If golfers were assessed like Olympic divers and skaters, it’s safe to say the panel of judges (and history) would still be out.  Otherwise, you have to look at the scorecard where the record currently sits at the 24 year-old, 160 pound tortoise-two majors, the 27 year-old, 240 pound hare-one.  For now at least, Aesop is still right!

For what it’s worth.