— Sports —

July 13, 2012

The Death Penalty for Penn State Football

Patrick Laverty

It's embarrassing to tag this with a "Sports" category as this really isn't a sports issue. It's a human decency issue. When you turn a blind eye to child rape in order to protect a football program and its coach, that's just disgusting.

Yesterday, a report commissioned by Penn State University and completed by former FBI director Louis Freeh, was released and it implicated officials at all levels of the university as being complicit. From the University president to the athletic director even down to head coach Joe Paterno. They were all aware of former coach Jerry Sandusky's child molestation actions. And they did nothing about it. Even worse, they acknowledged in writing, via email that they were putting the university at risk by not reporting the allegations. So they knowingly violated the law and even worse, violated the children a second time who had been raped by not reporting this. By not reporting the allegations to the authorities, it led to additional children being raped by Sandusky. These were acts that definitely could have been prevented if he had already been put in a cell to rot for decades.

In my opinion, the NCAA should institute its Death Penalty on Penn State football. Basically what this means is the school eliminates the sport for a period determined by the NCAA. Once the time is up, they can start over.

The NCAA has various levels of penalties they can apply to the program, from the loss of scholarships and fines, putting the program on probation, or all the way to the total elimination of the sport. The death penalty is reserved for instances where there is a total "lack of institutional control." Sometimes you get a rogue coach that gets out of control. They have lesser penalties for that sort of thing, especially when the athletic department themselves step in and institute a punishment. Sometimes it is the whole athletic department that is out of control. That's where the university can step in and clean it up, along with the NCAA. Then you have the level where the entire institution has lost their way, from top to bottom. That is the case here with Penn State. This is the situation that the death penalty was created for.

If the NCAA applies the death penalty to Penn State football, one of the crown jewels in college sports, it will send a message to every college president that no one is sacred, no one will be spared if your athletics program is out of control. It's a huge understatement to say that allegations like child molestation are serious and are far more important than any game or program. The entire Penn State University administration failed to realize this and now they need to pay the price. I hope the NCAA does the right thing.

Addendum: For those wondering why there's no mention of criminal charges in this post, it is because I took that as a given. Jerry Sandusky was convicted of charges. Joe Paterno is dead, and I'm not aware of any other PSU officials facing charges. But of course anyone involved who broke a law should be charged.

Also, visitors from Instapundit, please feel free to poke around the rest of this web site (Anchor Rising) join in the discussion and come back again.

April 1, 2012

The Closet of Professional Sports

Patrick Laverty

Late last week, a man in Connecticut was arrested for allegedly attempting to extort Minnesota Twins pitcher Carl Pavano. The asking price was a new Land Rover, navy with tan leather interior. Give the guy credit. If you're going to extort someone, know exactly what you want.

But what was the other part, what was he looking to hide? He claims to have had a three-year physical and emotional relationship with the major league player when they were classmates in high school.

I don't know and don't care if Carl Pavano is or ever was a homosexual. That is not the point. As of this moment, I don't see any reports of where Pavano has addressed the issue. But it did get me to thinking, wouldn't it be an interesting turn of events if Pavano, now 36 years old, were to turn to the reporters' microphones and answer the question with something simple and along the lines of "Yes, it's true. It was a period of my life of exploration and growth. I learned a lot from it and like everyone else, I've changed a lot in my life since I was in high school. Let's go play some baseball."

How would that be received in the world of professional sports? A lot has been said about when we'll see the first openly gay professional athlete in one of the big four sports (baseball, basketball, football, ice hockey) in America. Could this the baby toe in the water in that discussion? Would a statement like I offered above be enough to make someone else confortable enough to address it?

We have previously had professional athletes admit that they are gay, but they've all done it after they've left the world of professional sports. When will we have someone or multiple players be comfortable enough to admit it while they are playing? But even moreso, how long after that will it take until the collective American public responds with a "Who cares?"

February 5, 2012

Have a Super Day!

Marc Comtois

Let's face it, the big news story around here has to do with football. So, despite the fact that some knucklehead on the NY Football Giants website team thought they had already won, the game is in fact tonight. There are plenty of football storylines, but to a lot of people, it will be about the commercials. No matter what your focus, enjoy our unofficial national holiday & may the Patriots Reign again!

June 16, 2011

Bruins Win the Cup!

Marc Comtois

Welcome to the party B's!!!!


It's official: in this century, Boston is the Hub of Champions!

May 29, 2011

Coach Cooley: A Role Worth Modeling

Marc Comtois

That Providence College basketball has turned to a native son to turnaround it's troubled program is not new news, but Kevin McNamara's piece in today's ProJo about new PC basketball coach Ed Cooley is one worth reading. He had a tough family life but was lucky to know a family that helped him out. Above all else, though, was his focus and drive.

To ease his mother’s burden, Cooley lived with the Searights off and on from the time he was 10 years old. He says he “never remembers not having a job. I was sweeping the sidewalk in front of Popular Market at Broad and Warrington when I was 9 years old. I helped at the Laundromat next door, too.”

By the time he enrolled at Central in 1984, Cooley was a budding hoop star. His mother had left Elma Street and moved into the Wiggins Village housing project, just around the corner from Central. Eddie moved back in with his mother, brother Timothy and two younger sisters, Margaret and Gloria.

In school, he credits an English teacher, Paula Milano, with steering him to the Upward Bound program at Rhode Island College. In his junior and senior years, he went to RIC for five hours every Saturday for classes and spent six weeks over two summers living on campus.

“Eddie was always focused on his education,” said Mariam Boyajian, the director of Upward Bound. “He was this big basketball player and his friends were all about being cool and the street but he handled all of it well. He found out that if he could do it here with us, he could do it in college.”

He moved onto college and worked his way into the coaching ranks. Now, back in Providence, he's ready to accept the responsibility of turning around the the basketball program. And people are looking to Cooley to do more:
Cooley turns left onto Prairie Avenue, looks out over a wide expanse of playgrounds and says, “All this was projects. It was a tough spot. Roger Williams projects.” Up on the right sits Roger Williams Middle School, now one of the lowest-performing schools in the state.

As he tries to sneak past a group of kids waiting for a bus, the lone adult in the pack waves down his truck, “Cooley, I’ve been trying to get you!” He asks what’s up and she says, “You need to come in and talk some sense into these kids. They all show up to school with a ball under their arms and no books.”

To be sure, in the short term, Cooley is focused on his program. Yet, I think it's safe to assume that Cooley will continue to be more to his hometown than just "Coach."

July 9, 2010

Sailing in the Ocean State

Marc Comtois

Yes, we lost the bid to host the America's Cup, but there is still opportunity to grow our economy by focusing on sailing related business.

Warned ahead of time, the state administration immediately took a positive perspective, saying that Rhode Island is likely to host preliminary races that could become as big a benefit as the actual Cup defense....Keith Stokes, head of the state Economic Development Corporation and the leading state official on the issue, said the trials to select the Cup defender could involve several yachting syndicates.

Stokes said in an interview that the preliminary races in some ways offer a better opportunity than the final Cup challenge. Given the potential for multi-year events, “that provides a longer-term and stable economic opportunity.”

It would give Rhode Island time to re-build the sailing infrastructure required to host such events and, perhaps eventually have those facilities in place to make a strong bid to host a future America's Cup race. One thing we do have is a natural bay that is well-suited to sailing.
Long-time yachting expert Halsey Herreshoff, president of the America’s Cup Hall of Fame, said he sees another, long-term bright side to the situation: Newport is an excellent place to sail. Once current America’s Cup sailors find that out through sailing preliminary races here, he reasons, they’ll want to come back for future Cup competitions.
Bidding for the next America's Cup race was a long-shot and, though certainly worth a try, was akin to the sort of one-time fixes we're apt to try for here in Rhode Island. Hopefully this will indeed be a blessing in disguise and we'll seize on the heightened awareness that the sailing industry could be a bigger boon to the Ocean State. Whoda thunk?

June 23, 2010

World Cup

Marc Comtois

I'm a soccer guy. I play and coach, follow the sport and needless to say I'm really into the World Cup. But I'm not a soccer proselytizer: I won't force it on you, but don't tell me I'm stupid for liking it. To each his own, right?

This year's U.S. Men's Team has a different feel to it than in the past. 18 of the players compete internationally and, going into the Cup, the team was given a real shot to go into the Round of 16. Well, today they did it, albeit at the last minute and in dramatic fashion. As in the game against Slovenia, there was another goal disallowed on an iffy call. Yet, the player who scored the game winner, Landon Donovan, explained the setback was no reason for excuses:

"Like I said last week, we embody what Americans are about. We can moan about it or we can get on with it and we kept going. We believe, man."
No excuses, get the job done. Regardless of the outcome, there was little doubt the effort was there. And this time, it paid off. Next game is Saturday.

May 13, 2010

Ionic Politicians and What The Really Know

Marc Comtois

Boston's Mayor Menino made one of his typical gaffes the other day when he was describing such "ionic" Boston sports moments like that time Varitek split the uprights for the Patriots. The Assistant Village Idiot (an "iconic" title ;) explained that the sports-knowledge and vocabulary deficiency that Menino displayed is an indicator about politicians' knowledge on most subjects in general:

They know lots of important information about getting elected: what emote-words voters want to hear, what the party breakdown is in various regions, what types of advertising are most effective, what issues are currently hot, whose hands need to be shaken, how to raise money. As many of them are lawyers, they also know legal terminology pretty well. Some don't have much beyond that in knowledge of the law, but there are a fair number who actually do understand it. They know how their own legislative bodies work, who is responsible for what, and something of who the key people are.

That’s about it. You can't count on elected officials at any level actually knowing more than that. Getting sports names and facts wrong is not an interesting oddity--it is a window into the rest of their knowledge. There's nothing wrong with not knowing something about a subject. There is something very wrong about pretending to know a subject when you don't, and then asserting legislative power over it.

Unfortunately, as we rely more and more on government to get through our daily lives, we come to believe that our politicians are experts on almost everything. The truth is, of course, that they're not, so they turn to career bureaucrats--with an interest in maintaining their own relevancy--for guidance. That is, if they deem it necessary and don't think they can get by by faking it.

March 23, 2010

More on Hoss Radbourn

Marc Comtois

I recently mentioned Ed Achorn's book on Hoss Radbourn, Fifty-nine in '84. Now, WRNI's Ian Donnis has an interview with Achorn up. Radbourn had 59 wins in 1884 and pitched almost every game for the Providence Grays that year. Good stuff.

March 17, 2010

RI Interscholastic League Denies Cranston Sport Consolidation

Marc Comtois

Those who read my previous post regarding Cranston's attempt to help relieve their budgetary woes by combining various school sports programs from their two high schools via a waiver application to the Rhode Island Interscholastic League won't be surprised to read that I think the RI Interscholastic League got it right:

The Rhode Island Interscholastic League Principals Committee on Athletics has denied the Cranston School Department's request for an eligibility waiver that would have allowed the consolidation of teams at the city's two high schools.

The committee voted 10-0 Wednesday to deny the request to allowed the city to field co-operative teams in 16 sports. There was one abstention.

As a result, plans to eliminate freshman football, basketball and baseball; girls and boys indoor track and tennis and co-ed golf at Cranston High School East and Cranston High School West will proceed. The School Committee has already voted to eliminate those sports for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Tom Mezzanotte, executive director of the Interscholastic League, said the co-op rule is intended to increase opportunities to participate. In Cranston's case it would limit opportunities, he said.

The committee does not want students "to bear the burden of financial problems" in the community, he added.

Mezzanotte's reasoning is completely correct and Cranston shouldn't have been--and wasn't able--to use the RIIL as an escape hatch for that city's budgetary problems. I expect that some parents and students will step up to try to save their teams. Whether they raise money on their own or take it to the school committee or city council is up to them.

There's No Truth To the Rumor That…

Carroll Andrew Morse

…in response to the President filling out an NCAA Tournament Bracket, the games will be canceled, and the House Rules committee will simply be "deeming" the President's choices as the winners.

(Usual apologies to Bill Reynolds).

March 10, 2010

Hoss Radbourn, The Grays and a Lady

Marc Comtois

ProJo scribe Ed Achorn just released a new book, Fifty-nine in '84, which tells the story of Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn's 1884 season with the Providence Grays when he won 59 consecutive games. Old Hoss was indeed a character, something that can be seen even in the stills captured in this video:

But there's more than baseball in the book. Achorn also writes about the history and atmosphere of 1880's Providence and writes extensively about Radbourn's romance and eventual marriage to Carrie Stanhope, "the alluring proprietress of a boarding house with shady overtones, a married lady who was said to know every man in the National League personally."

March 2, 2010

Avoid Long Term Ramifications: RIIL Should Deny Cranston Team Consolidation

Marc Comtois

Cranston's recent proposal to merge school sports is currently being weighed by the Rhode Island Interscholastic League. John Gilooly explains why allowing such a merger would set a bad precedent:

The problem I see is that as an association of individual high schools, if the Principals Committee allows two high schools from the same city to combine teams as a cost-saving measure, it would be hard pressed in the future to prohibit schools from two different local governments to combine some teams to save money.

Hopefully, the people in Scituate and Smithfield or Middletown and Newport never think this way, but if the precedent is set, how could the Interscholastic League not allow neighboring small communities, as well as other large cities, to save money in hard financial times by combining teams?

The result would be fewer opportunities for state’s high school students to reap the whole spectrum of benefits that come from playing for a high school varsity athletic team.

That goes against the 78-year mission of the R.I. Interscholastic League.

Trying to make the best of a bad situation by allowing team consolidation for the purpose of giving more kids the opportunity to play--while noble sounding--is a flawed, short-term fix. For while this something-is-better-than-nothing solution would save a few sports in one community, the long-term ramifications would be detrimental to student athletes in Rhode Island. As Gilooly explains, this seemingly pragmatic approach, if authorized by the RIIL, could be used by communities across the state to justify cutting and combining sports, which would mean fewer spots for student athletes.

Such unintended consequences stemming from a purported fix in school athletics isn't unprecedented: the Education policy known as Title IX--which seeks to equal the playing field for female and male participation in school sports--is often used by schools to justify cutting boys sports to help maintain that equity. It's easier to cut men's baseball at Providence College, for instance, than to add and fund a new sport for women athletes, you see. The goal may be admirable, but there's no guarantee that the means to achieving will be quite what we'd hoped.

Finally, when viewed from a political angle, the RIIL shouldn't bail out Cranston for its self-made budgetary and fiscal problems. It's up to Cranston parents and voters to exercise their power and remind the politicians of what the priorities should be, one way or another.

February 8, 2010

Superbowl Thoughts

Marc Comtois

1) Congrats to the Saints and their fans. For the rest of us, the game was entertaining and was capped off by a nice pick-6 and the Manning Face (and schadenfreude for Pats fans).
2) 3 Penalties called in the whole game. Wish there was more of that during the regular season. The refs let them play. There were a few tangles down the field that would have caused yellow flags to fly in a regular season game in Indianapolis (just for instance, of course).
3) Former ProJo scribe Tom Curran contrasts the Colts failure with the most recent Patriots failure (in 2007) and adds historical perspective:

From a team standpoint, this is a horrific result because the Colts passed on a chance to chase history under the flimsy excuse that they were more concerned with achieving the goal of winning the Super Bowl....The 2009 Colts passed on the chance to be historic. Instead of trying to become the best team of all time, they decided they just wanted to be the best team in 2009. And they couldn't even do that....

With the Patriots, you had a team that had the guts to try to be perfect, a team that was willing to take the best shot of every opponent all year long to try and achieve greatness. When they lost in the Super Bowl, it was because the New York Giants beat them.

With the Colts, you have a team that was afraid of the pressure, afraid of "what if." They were a team that risked putting players on the field to achieve personal milestones in the final weeks of the season but ran like hell from trying to achieve the ultimate team milestone. And when they lost to the Saints Sunday night...they really got what they deserved for disrespecting the enormity of what they were on the verge of accomplishing. 18-1 would have sucked. But 16-3? Just in a pile with the rest of the teams.

Play to win.
4) All that means is that there can be no question who the "Team of the Decade" for th 2000's was: The New England Patriots.
5) Serendipity? The team with a motto of "Who dat?" wins the Superbowl with The Who as half-time performers.
6) Finally, what was the big deal about that Tebow ad? As for the other ads: two disturbing "men in underwear" ads (who wants to see that!); three ads concerning how men have become emasculated (one was for a car, the other for soap, and another for a new tech); for some reason, I liked Punxsutawney Polamalu--just goofy and weird and also the voice-box one because, to me, it poked fun at the ridiculous trend that is autotune.

January 25, 2010

Top Baseball Prospect Signed by God's Team

Marc Comtois

I heard about Grant Desme this morning on the radio. He's a pretty good baseball player.

The Athletics picked Desme in the second round of the 2007 amateur draft and he was starting to blossom. He was the only player in the entire minors with 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases last season.

Desme batted .288 with 31 homers, 89 RBIs and 40 steals in 131 games at Class-A Kane County and high Class-A Stockton last year. He hit .315 with a league-leading 11 home runs and 27 RBIs in 27 games this fall in Arizona, a league filled with young talent.

But he's picking another team:
Desme announced Friday that he was leaving baseball to enter the priesthood, walking away after a breakout season in which he became MVP of the Arizona Fall League.

"I was doing well at ball. But I really had to get down to the bottom of things," the 23-year-old Desme said. "I wasn't at peace with where I was at."

A lifelong Catholic, Desme thought about becoming a priest for about a year and a half. He kept his path quiet within the sports world, and his plan to enter a seminary this summer startled the A's when he told them Thursday night.

General manager Billy Beane "was understanding and supportive," Desme said, but the decision "sort of knocked him off his horse." After the talk, Desme felt "a great amount of peace."

"I love the game, but I aspire to higher things," he said. "I know I have no regrets."

Good for him.

January 5, 2010

Narcisse an Example for Us All

Marc Comtois

Today, Bill Reynolds writes about Floyd Narcisse, the much-beloved Central High basketball coach who recently passed away from cancer:

I first met him at a summer league game in North Providence in the late 1980s. He had moved here from Springfield, Mass., transferred then by AT&T. From the beginning he brought an energy, a love of kids, and a big heart.

In those early years he used to host his own AAU tournaments, bringing in teams from New England and New York, then getting on my case when we here at The Journal either didn’t cover them, or did so sparingly. He always was an advocate for inner-city kids back then, something that often must have felt like always pushing a large rock up a long hill.

What I didn’t know then was how active he was in the community, whether it was in the Allen A.M.E. Church in the West End, or the John Hope Settlement House. It soon became apparent, though, that Narcisse was one of those people who never was going to stop pushing that rock, an activist in the best sense of the word.

The first column I did on him was in 1993, when we sat in a McDonald’s in Seekonk. He had been doing his AAU tournaments around here for six years then, and if he was frustrated by the lack of coverage, it never seemed to stop him.

I asked him why.

“We as black men — for the most part — don’t give back to the community,” he said. “I wanted to do that. I think we have to do that. And don’t tell me you don’t have enough time. I have a family. I have two children. You have to find the time.”

"You have to find the time." That's so true. Whether its on the field or court, or at your school or church or community, we need more people to give of their time, especially to our kids. The basketball court was Narcisse's "in", but...:
“It’s not about basketball,” he said one night before a game at La Salle. “It’s about teaching these kids to become people. Why is this important? Because this is an inner-city school and these kids face those stereotypes every day. You know the ones. That these kids are hoodlums. That they disrespect people, scare people. These are the stereotypes these kids face every day, the stereotypes all inner-city kids face every day.

“Our job is to teach these kids the real facts of life,” he went on. “Not to sugarcoat things. Because when they go out in the real world it matters how people perceive you. It matters how you dress, how you act, how you deal with people.”

These lessons need to be taught and reinforced every day. Not just to the inner-city kids, but to the suburbanites and the rural farm kids, too. It's a big world and we are all judged, every day. It's not fair, but that's the way it is. Floyd Narcisse taught young men these lessons and many more. He changed lives. All because he was able "to find the time" for kids who couldn't get the time of day from so many other adults. Floyd Narcisse was a true man and an inspiration. May he rest in peace.

November 5, 2009

No Salt Water Fishing "Tax" In Ocean State

Marc Comtois

Governor Carcieri vetoed the bill imposing a $7 license fee for salt-water fishing. As the ProJo reports, "This is the Ocean State," Carcieri stated. "It is a place where people have been free, up to now, to cast a line into Narragansett Bay without government intrusion." He means the federal government, too.

Congress mandated the licensing of all saltwater fishermen several years ago, aiming to establish a more reliable way of tracking recreational fishing. Any state without a registry would have to submit to federal licensing, which costs more than the proposed $7 fee for Rhode Island.... Carcieri cited the Tenth Amendment, which states that "powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

To which Carcieri added, "Mandating that all persons seeking to cast a fishing line in Narragansett Bay for the purposes of recreational fishing should be required to pay an annual licensing fee and register with the government is excessively intrusive."

November 3, 2009

Grassroots Unrest Spreads to the NFL

Marc Comtois

The "political arena" isn't the only place where the grassroots are ticked off and ready to show it. Fans of both the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins are planning on making a public statement about the sorry state of their teams. In Cleveland:

Lifelong Browns fan and season-ticket holder Mike Randall, aka "Dawg Pound Mike," is encouraging other Cleveland fans to stay away from their seats for the opening kickoff of the Browns' Nov. 16 home game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Sickened by the nearly constant losing since the NFL team's return in 1999, Randall hopes the sight of empty seats for the start of the nationally televised Monday night game will send a loud message to Browns owner Randy Lerner and other club officials that fans have had enough.

"We're tired of losing," said Randall, 39. "We're tired of the booing, of seeing fans leave in the fourth quarter. There are fans who have had tickets for 30 years who are turning their seats in because they can't take it anymore. So many fans are fed up."

In Washington, D.C.:
Daniel Snyder wants to ban signs at FedEx Field? Then let's turn the stadium itself into a sign he can't ban.

Everyone sitting in the designated upper-level sections for the Washington vs Denver game (Nov. 15th at FedEx field) can be part of a giant "FIRE SNYDER" sign just by wearing the color designated for their seat.

These are more examples of how technology is helping average folks organize around an issue in hopes of making a statement. Sports and society do indeed mirror each other.

October 14, 2009

Private School Teams on Public Fields

Marc Comtois

I don't know if this will go anywhere, but the lawsuit by the ACLU against the Pawtucket Parks and Rec Department for supposedly giving parochial schools priority over public schools for athletic field use caught my attention. As summarized at 7to7:

The ACLU, in a news release Wednesday, alleged that parks and recreation gave the preferential treatment in issuing permits for athletic field use to parochial schools over public schools.

The suit has been filed on behalf of seven Pawtucket parents and their children and it asks for the court to declare unconstitutional "both the preferential treatment to religious schools and the city's lack of any objective standards" for issuing the permits for fields use.

As an example, the suit claims that O'Brien field has "been reserved exclusively" for Saint Raphael Academy after it was refurbished using tax dollars.

And junior high school teams at the city's public schools have been denied use of two other fields, which are used by athletic teams from Saint Raphael and/or Bishop Keough Regional High Schools, the suit alleges.

I'm much more persuaded by the claim that the city has no objective standards for determining field use than by any supposed religious preferential treatment. (I suspect that any preference has more to do with who in the Pawtucket Parks and Rec may or may not be an alumnus of a particular school or not). Perhaps the most persuasive argument (PDF) is that these athletic fields were built and are maintained by public tax dollars, but the permitting has undeniably favored the athletic teams at St. Raphael's over the public schools.
[F]or most of the period before and since the O’Brien Field has been refurbished through the use of public monies, Saint Raphael Academy has enjoyed the exclusive use of said field, particularly on week-day afternoons in the fall season, despite repeated requests by various public school officials for use of O’Brien Field for public school sponsored interscholastic sports, submitted to the City of Pawtucket’s Office of Parks and Recreation, by and through Defendant William D. Mulholland.
This is part of a larger debate: to what degree should public dollars support private education? Many (all?) municipalities are required to bus students to private schools within their zone, for instance. If private school is a choice--often made out of necessity--should the public (ie; the taxpayer) be expected to subsidize any portion of that education? (Keeping in mind that parents who send their kids to private school subsidize public schools via their taxes)? Would this all go away if a voucher-type system was enacted?

September 18, 2009

Re: Conserving Civilization - The Coliseum

Marc Comtois

Like Justin, I read Michael Knox Beran's piece about the loss of the marketplace (the agora) with interest. Beran contrasted the emptying agora (the town square or marketplace) with the filling up of castles both old and new built. Beran points to an upper class culture striven for by the modern day aristocrats (czars and the like) and the wannabe's (academia and the professional class) who look to migrate to wealthy burbs and McMansions while leaving behind the village or town squares.

A rapid growth in population and a vast expansion of commerce overwhelmed the old centers. At the same time the rise of the nationstate and its metropolitan elites made the provincial agoras seem, well, provincial. The provinces, Tocqueville wrote, "had come under the thrall of the metropolis, which attracted to itself all that was most vital in the nation." The traditional patrons of agora culture, the merchant princes who were once proud of their market squares, abandoned them to ape the gentry. The man of business found it infra dig to live near his shop; he built himself a mansion in a fashionable aristocratic district. New technology further diminished the appeal of the old forums as people turned to radio, cinema, and television for amusement.

Even so, the civic focal point might have survived if people had cared about it. But the rationale was forgotten. During the last few centuries the traditional artistry of the marketplace has come to seem merely quaint and even irrational. Modern planners who studied the old market squares failed to see, beneath a surface of heterogeneous activity, the unity of a civic whole.

As Justin highlighted, Beran has some ideas--some hope--that conservatives can build back up our traditional culture--western civ and the like--by independently funding cultural arts and bringing them back to the modern day agora. We can try, but while the agoras may have emptied, the denizen's of both village and castle continue to go to the coliseum.

The ancient coliseum's were built for spectacles that could entertain the masses. Often playing to the lowest common denominator, the entertainment kept the rabble happy and, hopefully, made them forget their lot in life. While today's sport culture in America serves the same purpose (I'm a proud member of the rabble, by the way), if less violently (well, except maybe with MMA), there is also more going on than "here we are now, entertain us" or the simple sating of the basic human need to belong to something bigger, like The Team.

If you've ever tailgated at a professional or college football game, you know that the conversation is quite broader than simply going over the impending game. While the purpose of the coliseum and the games played within may be the same as ever--people go to games to forget about life's problems for a while--they also collect people together to socialize and gossip and talk about their lives and the world. This temporary community is an offshoot of a shared sense of team, but it lingers past the day's game and is not confined to time spent in the coliseum. It expands into lives outside of the coliseum and encompass the apparently peripheral. The recent retirement speech made by Detroit Tigers' broadcaster Ernie Harwell provides a glimpse into a common ethos and respect for tradition that is fostered in the bleachers.

It's a wonderful night for me. I really feel lucky to be here, and I want to thank you for that warm welcome. I want to express my deep appreciation to Mike Ilitch, Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers for that video salute and also for the many great things they've done for me and my family throughout my career here with the Tigers.

In my almost 92 years on this Earth, the good Lord has blessed me with a great journey, and the blessed part of that journey is that it's going to end here in the great state of Michigan. I deeply appreciate the people of Michigan. I love their grit. I love the way they face life. I love the family values they have. And you Tiger fans are the greatest fans of all, no question about that.

And I certainly want to thank you from the depth of my heart for your devotion, your support, your loyalty and your love. Thank you very much, and God bless you.

Fans of the Tigers were emotionally attached to Harwell. His voice recalled times of youth and tradition and auld lang syne. There was a bond between the Tigers and their fandom, what some would call the "Tiger Community." Such nostalgia is a valuable aspect of tradition. It reminds us of how things were, the good times and, perhaps, provides a gateway into deeper reflection of why the "good old days" were.

This can also be scaled down from the coliseum to the local sports field. In many ways, while mimicing the games played in the coliseum, youth sports bring us much closer to the agora . Parents and volunteers must get together, navigate egos and differing opinions and run the operation so that kids can learn life lessons that competition can provide. Along the way, tasks are completed, obstacles overcome and the shared sense of community is deepened. The sport may be what brings people together, but it serves as an entry point into all manner of topics that are discussed at meetings and at the fields. In fact, often times, the game on the field is really only background noise to the talk on the sidelines!

Most importantly, sports gather together people from all walks of life, from everywhere on the social and economic ladder. But youth or higher-level sports aren't the only vehicle for the establishment of civic spirit. There are all sorts of activities that help build community in the same way, from the Boy Scouts to the Buckeye Brook Coalition. They just aren't all centralized in the same physical marketplace idealized by Beran.

Yet, the function or spirit that comes out of the coliseum isn't the same as that of the agora. It's certain that the coliseum of today--that American sports culture--doesn't exactly approach the artistic culture for which Beran pines (does "Let's Get it Started" qualify as high art?). The physical spaces of today's sports culture simply can't accomodate--or probably won't welcome--Beran's agora ideal. We aren't going to be seeing half-time concertos or the 6th Inning Operatic Moment any time soon. Maybe it isn't the kind of civilization Beran would like to conserve. But don't let the face paint and team jersey's fool you. Right now, many of the people for whom Beran is looking are in stadiums and on playing fields, cheering on their teams and talking about everything under the sun.

September 2, 2009

Schilling to Run for MA Senate?

Marc Comtois

Waving the Bloody Sock?:

Curt Schilling, best known for his bloody-sock pitching heroics, may step up to the plate and run for U.S. Senate.

The retired Red Sox ace said today in a telephone interview with NECN that even though his “plate is full,” he’s been contacted to consider a run for the open seat held by the late Edward M. Kennedy. A Jan. 19 special election has been set by the governor to fill the post.

Schilling, a Republican who stumped for John McCain in the New Hampshire presidential primary last year, said he’s a reluctant possible candidate.

“You’d have to make a decision pretty quickly. Let’s just leave it with that,” Schilling said to NECN.

“I think it’s going to take the right candidate. ... There needs to be an enormous amount of house cleaning done,” he added, saying that sentiment would probably cost him deeply.

“My first press conference could be my last,” Schilling said, stressing he sees a lot wrong with politics as usual in the Bay State.

The right-hander said his work with his online gaming company, 38 Studios, is taking up a lot of his time, but anything is possible. He also said a decision to run for the U.S. Senate would need to be backed by his wife, Shonda.

Based on his past media appearances, I think the Schill may be a little too candid for most voters. But maybe that's just what we need.

September 1, 2009

"Sports teach the same lessons to the superstar as the substitute."

Marc Comtois

ProJo high school sports reporter John Gillooly writes about pay-to-play and gives an example of a young girl who thought she'd give volleyball a try, but paying a sports participation fee was an issue:

She had heard that anyone who felt their family couldn’t afford the participation fee could go to the high school athletic director and make out a hardship waiver form. But that would be embarrassing for both her and her family.

The easier thing to do was just not play.

After all, it’s no big thing that she’s not playing. She’s not some superstar athlete. Her presence on the team wouldn’t be the deciding factor in a drive for a state championship. Other than a few of her friends, nobody will even notice she’s not playing.

So she became one of the Lost Children of Pay-to-Play.

I don’t know “her” name.

I wouldn’t recognize “her” if I saw her.

But after decades of chronicling the activities of high school student/athletes and talking to people in areas where pay-to-play has been a reality for a while, I know “she” and other teenagers like her exist at every high school that has pay-to-play sports.

They are the not the star athletes, not the ones whose names appear on the recruiting lists of college coaches. They are, however, teenagers for whom high school sports participation is important for a variety of reasons that don’t include All-State awards or college scholarship offers.

We have become a society that more and more measures its concept of success by an individual’s celebrity-rating, yet high school sports teach the same lessons to the superstar as the substitute.

There are lessons of commitment, teamwork and healthy lifestyles and they come at a time when young people are beginning to make their own decisions about their life’s direction.

I would argue that being a substitute or an end-of-the-bencher can provide more valuable lessons than when your a superstar (or even just a solid varsity star). You learn about hard work, commitment and being on a team, even if personal glory doesn't redound upon you. That mindset, that sense of self-sacrifice, is one of many skills learned on the field or court that can easily be transferred into everyday life. As I've said, providing our students the opportunity to compete on teams--or play music, or act or paint--free of charge (so to speak) is an important component of a well rounded education. It shouldn't cost extra.

August 6, 2009

UPDATE: RIDE - Charging Fees for School Sports Not Allowed

Marc Comtois

Updating my post of a couple weeks ago (and confirming a comment by WJAR's Bill Rappleye at the time), the RI Department of Education has issued a statement that school districts can't charge fees for interscholastic sports (via ProJo 7to7):

School districts cannot, under current state law, charge fees for interscholastic sports, and if a district wants to, they'll have to get the General Assembly to change the law, the state Department of Education advised the Rhode Island Interscholastic League in a letter the league released Thursday.

The letter, signed by Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist, reiterated a position taken by the department for decades. It cited laws dating back to the 1800s that it said set a clear state policy of not allowing fees to be charged for school activities.

"These principles compel us to the conclusion that public education in Rhode Island in not a means-tested welfare program," the letter said.

Gist acknowledged the widespread financial distress that the state's municipalities find themselves in this year, but said the law and court cases on the matter were clear and left the department no other possible ruling.

The department has issued similar advisories over the past decade, she said, and none of them have been challenged by the courts or the legislature.

"The General Assembly has never acted to overturn this position," she wrote, and that has led the department to assume "that the assembly does not disagree with the interpretation we have given."

Gist said districts might have fund-raising alternatives. She pointed to legislation passed this session by the legislation that allows school districts to accept donations targeted for specific purposes set by the donor.

"Perhaps this funding mechanism could be employed to greater effect to secure additional support for school sports," she said.

ADDENDUM: North Smithfield is going to go ahead and charge sports participation fees anyway. Looks like this one is going to the courts.

July 1, 2009

Fish Ladders

Marc Comtois

Conservative. Conservation. Fish Ladders.

For years, a consortium of government agencies and advocacy groups has struggled for funding to knock down dams and build fish ladders to help restore local fish migrations. That work was jump-started on Tuesday when the federal government came forward with $3 million in stimulus money for six projects on the Ten Mile and Pawcatuck rivers.

When the work is done, fish will be able to migrate all the way up the Pawcatuck from Watch Hill, in Westerly, to Worden Pond, in South Kingstown.

In East Providence, the 30-year campaign by volunteers to lift spawning herring one bucket at a time over the Omega Dam may finally come to an end. A fish ladder will be built there and at two other locations upstream.

In all, the money will open up 13 miles of rivers and streams and 1,640 acres of spawning habitat, including Worden, the state’s largest freshwater pond.

I understand the raised eyebrows some fiscal conservatives have. Is this really economic "stimulus"?
These projects were chosen partly because they were "shovel ready," and far along in the permitting process. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration points out that this project may create up to 18 jobs. Does that seem right? $3 million in federal stimulus dollars will create up to 18 jobs. That comes out to $166,667 for each temporary job they create. For just a moment, let's put the project aside. Is it really worth while to spend $3 million to create 18 temporary jobs? Will this project have an economic impact that will stimulate the economy and put more people to work long-term? It seems doubtful.
Perhaps. But the economic benefits may be realized farther out. A similar project was undertaken in Maine and has helped to reestablish various stocks of fish, including important bait fish and game fish like salmon, stripers and sturgeon. More bait fish and more game fish helps both commercial and recreational fishing entities here in the Ocean State. That seems like an economic plus to me. Additionally, the dam removal in Maine inspired other economic improvements. For example:
Augusta's Capital Riverfront Improvement District (CRID) is using the removal of the Edwards Dam as the keystone of its efforts to revitalize Augusta's downtown core. The District's legislative purpose is to “protect the scenic character of the Kennebec River corridor while providing continued public access and an opportunity for community and economic development ..." With funding and leadership from the August CRID, the Kennebec River waterfront is being cleaned and beautified, underutilized buildings are being renovated and converted into housing and commercial space, and the Edwards Mill Park is now on its way to completion.
Economic development isn't always a straight line: conservatives should know that the law of unintended consequences can be both positive as well as negative. And there are political advantages to be found by supporting sound conservation policies:
I have argued the merits of promoting conservation as a conservative cause, including the construction of "fish ladders." I cringe when I hear Eric Cantor and other GOP leaders railing against this and a handful of other conservation projects as "wasteful" government spending. Not only are the hook'n bullet crowd one of the largest voting constituencies in the hinterlands, they spend billions of dollars every year on hunting and fishing and helping to support local communities. This is a wise investment not only for the fish but for the voting and recreating public.
Conservatives shouldn't let their legitimate criticisms of the social ideology we know as "environmentalism" cloud their thinking when considering conservation policies. The latter is entirely consistent with a conservative philosophy, after all.

April 3, 2009

Opening Day is Coming

Marc Comtois

No deep thoughts to plumb (life can get like that, no?)....but I can offer this from National Review Online:

For the Love of the Game: Thirty Major League Baseball fans lay out the reasons for their devotion:

Walking through a Fenway Park turnstile is the sweetest feeling on earth. The charm of baseball’s oldest ballpark is largely thanks to its connection to the past. There’s the left-field home of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice; the red seat in a sea of green bleachers where Ted hit the park’s longest ball; the hand-operated scoreboard; the five World Series flags earned between 1903 and 1918, and the anguished wait to raise a sixth in 2004. There’s personal history there, too: memories of waiting out rain delays in makeshift, garbage-bag ponchos as a little girl, and of my husband proposing to me in the very same bleachers years later.

The Sox have always paid tribute to their past, but recent history holds valuable lessons for the future, too. The miracle of 2004 taught Sox fans never, ever to give up hope; 2007 proved the benefits of disciplined persistence. And the 86 years between celebrations taught us to savor every happy moment.

— Courtney Myers works in public policy in Arlington, Va.

March 4, 2009

Do We Really Need Legislators Involved in Youth Sports?

Marc Comtois

No. We don't. But the RI Senate is gonna try (S0169) (h/t Dan Yorke):

41-12-1. Legislative findings. – The Rhode Island general assembly finds that parents lack a proper outlet to share concerns and objections about youth sports. The general assembly further finds that there is a need for increased transparency and direction within youth sports programs in the state of Rhode Island. Therefore, the general assembly finds that a youth sports oversight council is necessary to increase access and improve quality of youth sports programs in the state of Rhode Island.
Stop right there. To my knowledge, every local sports league in this state is subject to the rules and regs of a Statewide body. That's where complaints should go. Not to the freaking General Assembly!
41-12-2. Composition of council. – There shall be a youth sports oversight council consisting of seven (7) members. The governor shall appoint members with the advice and consent of the senate. The governor shall give due consideration to appointing members with the following qualifications: one member shall be from northern Rhode Island; one member shall be from South County; one member shall be from the East Bay; one member shall be from Providence. Members of the council shall receive no compensation for their participation. The council shall elect from among the members a chairperson, vice chairperson and any other officers it deems necessary.
Trouble here...way too broad there guys. The only way to do it right is to have 37, one from each town (HA!).
41-12-3. Powers and duties of council. – (a) It shall be the duty of the council to provide oversight and mediation to any youth sports organization in the state of Rhode Island. If any person has a complaint with the actions of coaches, players, parents or officials during any youth sporting event at any town or state field or facility, the person shall file a complaint with the council.
Obviously, these guys have never actually run a sports a league.
(b) The council shall develop and adopt the process that shall be used to review and address complaints. The council shall develop any forms it deems necessary to fulfill it duties. (c) The council shall meet on a quarterly basis, or upon the request of the chair if a meeting is required sooner.
Heads-up, 4 times a year ain't enough.
(d) The council shall have the authority to establish and collect fines based on the adopted review process. Said fines shall support the administrative costs of the council.
That's nice, let's make money out of this. Look, there is no possible way any such commission can do an adequate job. It is hard enough for the wide-variety of all-volunteer youth sports leagues in this state to deal with the inevitable parental personality clashes--and they're close to the situation and usually know the "personalities" involved. A big, bad "impartial" Commission simply won't get it. This is a complete waste of time for the General Assembly. Don't they have better things to do?

February 21, 2009

Sports and the Community

Marc Comtois

Growing up in northern Maine, no week was bigger than Tournament Week--what we call February vacation here in Rhode Island. It is still a big deal. Basketball teams and their supporters congregate at the Bangor Auditorium from all over the northern 3/4s of the state, all for the purpose of representing "Eastern Maine" in the various Class and Division State Finals.

It seems like it's always been so.

To an outsider, it may seem strange that basketball is such a big deal in Maine...until you realize that there isn't much else to do in the winter, now, is there? So the High School Basketball season--and the tournament that crowns it--are major social and cultural events in the Pine Tree State.

Bangor Daily News, which I delivered growing up way back when, editorializes about "Tourney Time" and offers some perspective on the importance of sports to our youth and how the support of the community to the old town teams is so important:

And then there are the folks who are fixtures at the hometown high school gym each Friday or Saturday night. No one is really sure — are they related to one of the ballplayers? Long ago, did a son or daughter trot up and down these hardwood floors and the habit of attending stuck? Or is it that they just enjoy witnessing the amateur ballet and epic battle that is a high school basketball game.

They, too, play a critical role. They are the cross-stitches of community. It is they who know that a student athlete has a better chance of succeeding in the classroom if he or she takes on the discipline, cooperation and sacrifice of team sport. When the young athlete passes the anonymous fan’s familiar face at the grocery store or on the sidewalk outside the movie theater, the teen is simultaneously being supported and held accountable — which is what a healthy community is all about.

February 20, 2009

William's Sisters Refuse to Take a Stand

Marc Comtois

Sometimes its the sports pages that hold the important cultural news of the day. Today's win-at-all costs sports culture provides plenty of fodder for those of us interested in supplying our youth with teaching moments. The recent admission by Alex Rodriguez that he took steroids is but one example of just one high profile and ongoing saga.

Jim Donaldson calls attention to another, today.

Shame on Venus Williams. And on her sister, Serena, too.

The two of them will meet in the semifinals of the $2 million Dubai Tennis Championships.

They never should have played in the tournament at all.

Not after Shahar Peer, ranked No. 48 in the world, was unable to participate, banned from entering the country because she is an Israeli.

Can you imagine the outrage, the outcry if the Williams sisters were prevented from playing in a sanctioned, World Tennis Association tournament because they’re black?

Yet the barring of Peer, because she’s Jewish, didn’t seem to upset the sisters Williams all that much.

"We can’t let our sponsors down," said Venus, a member of the WTA Players Council. "Our sponsors are extremely important to us."

Which is tantamount to saying: "Money is extremely important to us."

The Williams sisters should have boycotted the tournament. Every American player should have boycotted the tournament. Every member of the WTA should have boycotted the tournament....

The Williams sisters could have been rallying points in Dubai. Instead, the only rallying they have done has been on the court, in pursuit of prize money.

The excuse given by the tournament organizers for banning Peer was that they were concerned about "security" in the wake of Israel’s recent military action in Gaza. Saying Peer’s presence "would have antagonized our fans," the tournament organizers wrote in a statement that they "did not wish to politicize sports, but we have to be sensitive to recent events in the region and not alienate or put at risk the players and the many tennis fans of different nationalities that we have here."

Donaldson also offers an instructive story about Arthur Ashe, who wrote about stands on principle made by John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg. No matter the excuse made by the tournament organizers, it's racism, pure and simple.

UPDATE: The World Tennis Association (WTA) has fined the Dubai tournament's organizers. A step in the right direction...

ADDENDUM: A quick personal anecdote: Prior to past business visits to Dubai and other Persian Gulf States, I've had to have my passport "scrubbed" of any existing Israeli Custom's stamps so I wouldn't encounter any "problems" entering the country. The reverse was not true.

January 23, 2009

Are You Ready For To Get Pissed At Some Football?

Marc Comtois

The NFL is generally considered to be the smartest and savviest of the major sports leagues. But they are screwing up, big time, here (h/t):

The Super Bowl won’t let the military color guard stay and watch the big game? Yes you read that right. Was I skeptical? At first, but after I contacted the Tampa Bay host Committee through their official website and spoke to Katie Wagner, I was assured that yes in fact her email inbox is full of emails from upset Marine Mom’s all asking for an explanation. To Ms. Wagner’s credit, who by the way was extremely gracious during my questions the Host Committee has no control over game day decisions; that authority rests solely with the NFL.

What has become a common yet gracious act of allowing a military color guard to stay and watch the game from the side lines, in honor of their service to our country, this time has them being treated as if they are the unwelcome guests, common servants to be whisked away as soon as their task is completed.

January 12, 2009

Jim Ed is IN HOF

Marc Comtois

I've been sparse again....but instead of offering comment on the important political events of the day, I just want to note that Jim Ed Rice is finally in the Baseball HOF:

Jim Rice was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame today, in his final year on the writers' ballot.

He earned 76.4 percent of the vote, more than the 75 percent standard needed for election.

Rickey Henderson also earned elected in this, his first year on the ballot.

Rice becomes the 18th Hall of Famer who spent a significant portion of his career with the Red Sox. The others include Babe Ruth, Tris Speaker, Cy Young, Jimmy Collins, Lefty Grove, Herb Pennock, Jimmie Foxx, Joe Cronin, Ted Williams, Red Ruffing, Harry Hooper, Rick Ferrell, Bobby Doerr, Carl Yastrzemski, Carlton Fisk, Dennis Eckersley and Wade Boggs. The only players in that group to spend their entire careers with the Red Sox are Rice, Williams, Doerr and Yastrzemski.