Monday, January 28, 2013

Gays in Sports

Every so often we’re faced with a moment, as fans, that force us to look within ourselves and question what we really believe.  Sports are normally very cut and dry.  We cheer for who we like and cheer against who we don’t.  We throw our support behind players based on what they do on the court or field without ever having to truly acknowledge their humanity.  Let’s admit it; we don’t know the people we cheer for.  We love them for their athletic skills, but rarely have to decide if they are the type of person we really can support out of their respective sport.  As we continue in this technological age, with access to players at an all-time high, we’re going to begin facing more questions about which players we decide to support.

Kenneth Faried and his Moms
While those of you who know me know I rarely discuss anything political, I wanted to take a moment to praise two prominent figures in sports that have recently spoke up in support of gay marriage.  Last week Denver Nuggets star Kenneth Faried released a video in support of civil unions while sitting alongside his two mothers.  Additionally, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendan Ayenbadejo has made it known that he will use the massive platform provided to him at the Super Bowl to promote gay marriage as well.  In a day and age where athletes have a tremendous platform, yet seldom use it to further worthy causes, it’s awesome to see these two individuals take a step forward and work towards something such as this.
Brendan Ayenbadejo
Regardless of what you believe, it takes an extremely brave person to stand up for gay rights, especially in the macho world of professional sports.  They open themselves up to public ridicule and verbal attacks from “fans” in opposing stadiums and on the faceless world of Twitter.  I shudder to think about the things that will be uttered by the ignorant people of the world, who feel safe behind their keyboards.

I, for one, almost feel validated to be a fan of Faried.  I know virtually nothing about him off the court, except that he’s tweeted me a couple of times (which I hilariously mention whenever I can because, even as a 35 year old, it’s kind of cool).  I love the way he plays the game, and it helps a little bit that he plays for my Nuggets.  Now that I know he’s a man of substance and character, it makes it even prouder to wear his jersey and cheer for him when I watch.  My son Marshall loves watching “Manimal” and I couldn’t be happier he’s chosen him as one of his “basketball guys”.

I believe that, as a society, we’re ready to embrace an openly gay athlete.  The thing is, for it to truly make a difference (in a positive way), I sincerely believe that we’ll need a male megastar in one of the major sports to come out as gay before viewpoints start to change.  I’m not sexist in any way at all, but if a woman comes out, there’s still a prevalent and immature male mentality that will take over.  “Two chicks together is cool,” is something I’ve regularly heard when this topic comes up.  It’s such an ignorant viewpoint, in my eyes.  Personally, I could not care less who you love and marry.  I support anyone who wants to marry someone they care about, male or female.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will be breaking ground at the end of February when the first woman’s fight takes place in the history of the company.  In addition to that the number contender that night, Liz Carmouche, is openly gay.  I’m hoping that her sexuality is ignored going forward once the fight is over.  I’m hoping that we won’t look at her as a “gay fighter”, but simply as a fighter.  That will be the most important step.


Whenever the first prominent male athlete in a major sport comes out, I believe the course will change and for the better.  There will always be the prejudicial and judgmental people out in the word, unfortunately, but the numbers may just dwindle down a bit.  Could you imagine if someone like LeBron James or Tom Brady were actually gay?  Obviously they are not, but what if?  Would that make their fans that support them so loyally, abandon and condemn them?  It wouldn’t make them any less dominant in their sport.  They’d still be among the best in the world at what they do.  It would put some people in a position of really looking within themselves.  They would have to address their prejudices and decide what kind of person they really are.  By forcing people to do that, I think it makes people become better individuals because they have to fix things they see that are wrong.


I am a firm believer that sports are a microcosm of society.  I think we’re taking steps in the right direction with this.  If professional athletes, who operate in their own little world, can accept people and their differences, we should be able to as a regular society.  Once equality for all really starts happening, our society is going to be in a much better position.


Kudos to Kenneth Faried and Brendan Ayenbadejo for providing important voices that are more likely to be heard than the ones of everyday people.  It’s a step in the right direction, not just for the gay community, but for society as a whole.


Questions or comments? Feel free to e-mail me at: wahlscorner@gmail.com

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Steroids and the Blind Eye

Cue the “high horse”...


We’ve all read by now that American hero and cyclist Lance Armstrong has admitted to Oprah that he, in fact, used performance enhancing drugs during his run at the top of his sport.  Immediately upon learning that he would be admitting his usage, so many in the news jumped on their high horse and started condemning anything and everything that Lance Armstrong is.  Facebook and Twitter exploded with attacks on him.  Quite frankly, it’s gotten ridiculous.  Before I get into this, I don’t want you to think I am defending him in any way.  I honestly don’t have enough facts to make any kind of informed judgment.  I just want to put out a few thoughts.


There are a few things that blow my mind about this situation.  There are a variety of people mentioning that Armstrong tore down the people around him.  He has cost people jobs, money and a variety of other things as he covered his tracks.  The interesting thing to me is that now we have people tearing him down…for tearing people down!  That is the sheer definition of hypocrisy.


Most likely you have lied about something in your life.  No one reading this is perfect.  People lie all the time and continue to build on that lie, regardless of the consequences.  The problem with Armstrong is that his lie was on a much larger scale than others.  He has a unique story of inspiration that adds a wrinkle so hard to accept.  It’s difficult to balance his deception with the positive things done through his Livestrong Foundation.


The situation with Armstrong is no different than any other professional athlete who chooses to utilize illegal substances to get ahead.  I can’t help but always think that if you know a person lives in a dirty world, you can’t be surprised when they are exposed as dirty.  The cycling world is one of the dirtiest sports in the world that almost annually has someone (or multiple competitors) busted for steroid use.  How na├»ve are we to think that Armstrong was the lone, upstanding athlete in this corrupt sport?


The fact is that the onus of steroid use in sports is on the shoulders of the fans (as much as the athletes), who routinely turn our heads and pretend it isn’t prevalent.  We like to pretend that our sports heroes are all natural, despite physical evidence showing otherwise, and then condemn them the moment they are exposed.  It’s not just cheating after their career is over.  It is also cheating when they are chasing Roger Maris’ home run record.


Major League Baseball was in awful shape coming off of a strike shortened season of 1994, which cost fans the World Series.  Attendance and television ratings had sagged.  The league needed something to bring people back around.  Enter Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.  Despite the obvious physical change we had seen in them, the nation got caught up in the chase for the home run record.  We rejoiced and were ecstatic when McGwire blasted record breaking homerun number 62.  We cared about the accomplishment.  It wasn’t until his career had ended that we started to care about how he did it.


We wanted to attack and condemn Jose Canseco for exposing steroid use, but at least he had the guts to admit it.  He never denied his steroid usage.  He wrote the book that blew the doors off of Major League Baseball.  Somehow he became a pariah, when in fact he was the one honest guy in this entire situation.  If his book had not exposed the rampant use, would MLB have done anything?  I sincerely doubt it, but once Canseco’s book came out, they were backed into a corner and had to respond.


It’s time we stop jumping on a high horse and acting like these guys are the worst thing on Earth for trying to gain an advantage.  The fans are just as guilty.  We support the guys who hit the most homeruns, who hit the hardest in football, who punch the hardest or the American dominating cycling (a sport we don’t even care about as a nation).  The layman will never understand the world of the professional athlete; a world where there is always someone coming up that is bigger, better, stronger, faster.  It never surprises me when one of them has been exposed as a cheater.  They do anything they can to gain an advantage.  Unfortunately some have to resort to illegal activity to accomplish it.


Don’t act for one second that any cheater in the world, in sports or business, wouldn’t do the exact same thing as Lance Armstrong, Mark McGwire or the guys of Enron did.  It means they are human and made mistakes.  It’s what makes us human.  We make mistakes.  We try and fix those mistakes, but sometimes we handle that incorrectly.  Just because you haven’t done something on a grand scale like they have, it doesn’t give you the right to judge them.  You may not agree with their decisions, which I don’t, but they have to live with the repercussions and not me.


Before you pledge your unrelenting fandom to someone, you might want to make sure it is someone you know you can respect.  At the end of the day, though, fans never truly know their sports heroes.  The best thing about sports idols is not only marveling at their on-court or field achievements, but sometimes you can learn a little something about life outside of those athletic moments.


One thing we have to learn about these situations is that none of us were there.  We really don’t know what they did or did not do.  We don’t know how they treated others.  We hear sensationalized stories that bring in readers and viewers.  It could be the truth.  It could be someone with an axe to grind.  I’ve learned that there are two sides to every story and the truth is somewhere in the middle.


Regardless, jump off the high horse and stop pretending we’re innocent in all of this.


 

 

Questions or comments?  Feel free to e-mail me at: wahlscorner@gmail.com

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Snap Judgment – Ravens vs Broncos, January 12th

We are less than an hour removed from the conclusion of the top seeded Denver Broncos losing a home playoff game to the four seeded Baltimore Ravens.  As evidenced from my blog earlier this week, I was seriously torn as to what I truly wanted.  Does my lifelong allegiance to the Broncos overrule my 20 year fandom of Ray Lewis?  How does my 15 year disliking of Peyton Manning factor in?  Can I seriously cheer for a guy I can’t stand to end the career of a man I respect completely?

As the week progressed, I continually felt the orange and blue coursing through my veins.  I am a Denver Broncos fan.  Period.  That will overrule any other allegiances.  While I hated to see Ray Lewis go and end his career in Denver, it had to happen that way…or did it?

I sat enthusiastically and watched Trindon Holliday become a star in Denver.  Notching a punt return and kick return for touchdowns, he quickly became the missing piece for a team that has lacked a great return man for many years.

Despite his brilliance, there were two glaring issues in Denver:

- Peyton Manning did not look good.  He threw an early interception, that likely shouldn’t have counted but if there’s no flag, there is no foul.  He also fumbled away a ball in a crucial moment.  The Ravens scored 14 points off of these two turnovers.  Add in the brutally bad throw in the second overtime that Baltimore intercepted and set up for the game winning field goal, and you've got a total dud of a game.

- Champ Bailey played his worst half as a Bronco at the worst possible time.  I am a huge Champ Bailey fan and will argue tooth and nail about him being the top corner in the league.  Today was a different story.  He was burned during the first half for two deep touchdowns to Torrey Smith.  He was flagged for a questionable pass interference call late in the 4th quarter that kept the momentum moving for the Ravens.  I must say, to his credit, Bailey did shut down Smith in the second half by only allowing one catch for seven yards.  He made the proper adjustments and stepped up when plays counted the most.

If you would have told me that the two, first ballot Hall of Famers on the Denver Broncos would be the main culprit for a Broncos loss, I would have laughed at you.  That would have been like telling me I would be starting at running back for them.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  Unfortunately it did.

The offense looked out of sorts most of the day, with spots of the great play we grew accustomed to throughout the regular season.  The absence of Willis McGahee was felt extremely hard in this one.   Whether it was his tough running or phenomenal pass protection, he is the real key to making this offense go.  Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman filled in admirably, but the real threat of a power running game was not there, and it showed.

The defense, while good at times in this game, managed to make Joe Flacco look like Joe Montana.  It’s simply unfathomable to allow him to walk into Mile High stadium and throw for 331 yards.  The largest mental gaffe occurred with thirty-one seconds to go, as Flacco found a wide open Jacoby Jones for a seventy yard, game tying touchdown.  This play was the moment I knew we would lose this game.  Sometimes things happen where you just know, this isn’t your night.

In the offseason, everyone kept asking if the regular Peyton Manning would be returning to the field.  The unfortunate thing is that he did.  He was great in the regular season, and a disappointment in the playoffs.  We can spin the narrative however we want, but the evidence is there.  He didn’t make the plays when they needed to be made.  Like they always say, quarterbacks get too much of the credit and also too much of the blame.  When you commit three turnovers that result in seventeen points in a home playoff game, that blame is warranted.

So where do I go from here?  I’ll take a few days to let this sink in and realize the window for Denver to win is very brief.  Manning at quarterback will continue to bother me and then worry me once the playoffs arrive.  However, my other dream still lives.  Ray Lewis will return to the AFC Championship game, in hopes of moving towards that final goal of a Super Bowl.  I don’t know how much emotion I have left, but if Baltimore can keep this up, I’ll keep rolling on this “last ride” with Ray Lewis.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Split Loyalty

Just a few short weeks ago, I was completely excited about the NFL Playoffs.  My beloved Denver Broncos were tearing through opposing teams and appeared to have completely come together as a team.  They struggled offensively through the first few weeks, falling behind early and trying to make monumental comebacks.  Once they finished off division rival in week five, the San Diego Chargers, in an unbelievable 24 point second half comeback, it was all systems go.  Week in and week out, no team could touch them as Denver routinely took games over early and let the Von Miller-led defense destroy their opponents’ will.  It was the best Broncos team I had seen since the 2005 Jake Plummer-led squad went 13-3 and was one win from the Super Bowl.


Additionally, word broke from Baltimore that Hall of Fame (we all know he will be) linebacker Ray Lewis was back on the practice field.  Growing up a fan of The U, Lewis has been a personal favorite of mine since he was in Miami.  I was pumped to see him back on the field, along with Ed Reed, ready to make another run into the playoffs.


Last week something weird happened; Ray Lewis announced that this was his “last ride” and would retire after the playoffs.  I immediately began to dread the inevitable.  I knew the moment he announced it that we were on a collision course for another Manning-Lewis classic match-up somewhere down the line, which I always look forward to.  This will be the last time, the final act in an amazing play.  Their previous match-ups have always been fun; watching them match each other audible for audible, adjustment for adjustment.  It was always a violent ballet, a mental chess match between two of the greatest at their positions.


However, this time will be different.  Not only do I have to cheer for the Broncos, a team I’ve been aligned with since childhood, but I have to cheer for them to end the career of a man I have watched since his freshman year at The U.  We’re talking about 20 years of cheering for one man, on the field and off.  I’ve been a Ray Lewis supporter in the best times and the worst.  His action figure (along with one of Ed Reed and Willis McGahee) sit prominently on my desk at work.  Underneath them is a hand-written acronym for which I pull from daily; P.I.G.S.  It stands for Perseverance, Inspiration, Greatness, Swagger.  These three men embody those words to me.  How do I cheer against Ray, and Ed Reed for that matter, in hopes that my team will advance down the road to a possible Super Bowl?


There’s an additional wrinkle.  Those of you that have ever talked football with me know my 15 years of cheering against Peyton Manning.  As I have previously written, I can’t just flip a switch and cheer for him simply because he is wearing the Broncos logo.  Have I softened a bit over the course of the season, even catching myself cheering for him at times?  Absolutely.  You can’t help but get swept up in winning.  This situation is a little different, though.  My hope was that Ray Lewis would win one more Super Bowl, retire alongside Ed Reed and then go see them inducted into the Hall of Fame together.  It really isn’t a far-fetched dream.


So I sit here today, essentially torn as to which dream I want more.  There’s no guarantee that either team will make it to or win the Super Bowl, but there’s a good chance one of these two teams can do it.  What do I want more though, a third Super Bowl title in Denver?  Or do I want Ray Lewis to go out on top, similar to John Elway?  As much as I want sports to be easy, it never is.  One thing is for sure, Saturday evening will come and they will step on the field against each other.  Three hours later I will be pumped, but also disappointed.


Regardless, I will watch with a smile on one side and a tear down the other.  This is why we love sports…