It starts as yeah, okay, so what. Then, it turns into...oh, my God, no, wait, he's not actually going to...
But yes, he is. And does. It's wonderful/
I don't care if you hate sports. I don't care if you especially hate bowling. I don't care if you don't consider bowling a sport. This is a must-watch, 30 seconds of your time.
It starts as yeah, okay, so what. Then, it turns into...oh, my God, no, wait, he's not actually going to...
But yes, he is. And does. It's wonderful/
Tennis star Novak Djokovic, perhaps the #1 player in the world, has been hosting a tournament in Serbia and Croatia. At least four players have tested positive for COVID-19, including Djokovic, as well as his wife. The tournament has been cancelled, and Djokovic has issued an apology.
On the surface, this is a very nice apology. But living on just the surface never tells the full story.
For one thing, Djokovic -- if not a "science denier" per se -- has been living by somewhat alternative "skepticism" standards after beginning a relationship with a self-styled wellness guru Chevrin Jafarieh, who previously was a real estate businessman...which is, of course, where all ace science practice comes from. Among other things, Jafarieh preaches that you can change the molecular structure of water by positive thought. And that bending your body in certain ways can release toxins. And that using a trampoline can detoxify the body.
Djokovic has embraced these attitudes, and has been an outspoken anti-vaxxer, including about not taking a vaccine for the coronavirus. He also has stated that he holds a strong friendship bond with a fig tree in Brazil. And he supports his wife's belief that the coronavirus is part of a conspiracy involving 5G broadband technology.
So, y'know, when he writes that they organized the tournament "believing that the conditions for hosting the Tour had been met" -- well, yeah, not so much.
Among other things, for example, players hugged each other, there was high five-ing with fans, there was no social distancing in the stands, and parties were held at night
Yes, I know. It's pretty ghoulish, most especially as far as meeting safe conditions goes.
And Djokovic also took time to relaxing playing some basketball with other tennis pals during a break in the tournament, here on the right along with Grigor Dimitrov.
Oh, by the way, it may not shock you to learn that Grigor Dimitrov is one of the four tennis players who, with Djokovic, tested positive for COVID-19.
So, yeah, "believing conditions for hosting the Tour had been met" requires a very flexible defining of the word "believing." And "met."
To be completely honest, I'm very sorry that anyone gets COVID-19, and I hope everyone at the event has a healthy recovery. Good luck to them all.
However, the issue isn't having a tournament, which is what Djokovic is apologizing for. The issue is the willful disregard of science protocols for safety at the event. Hugs, parties, no masks, no social distancing, high-fives, basketball. It put OTHERS not at the event at risk -- of spreading infection and death.
So, on full consideration, while the apology some nice things in it and which seem heartfelt, it's largely apologizing for the wrong thing. At best, as standards go for the Apology Institute of America from Nell Minow and myself, I initially decided I could give this a C- by stretching kindness as far as I could because of him being infected along with his wife, his philanthropic intent, and his sincerity of what he is saying -- though after more thought, it gets downgraded to a D+ because of what it doesn't say and when you remove the sympathy factor and good intentions for putting others at risk of their lives and then prorate for the photos and total disregard for science, which he tries to whitewash. If perhaps he had noted "I was a total asshole and will work hard the rest of my life, which I hope is long, to make up for this and will be donating time and money to the World Health Organization," he might have gotten a bump..
Mainly, though, this isn't about apologies. This is about reckless stupidity.
On this week’s Stay at Home edition of the NPR quiz show Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me!, the guest contestant for the 'Not My Job' segment is Olympic Bronze-medalist figure skater Adam Rippon. His conversation with host Peter Sagal is pretty straightforward, but interesting about the Olympic process with some the behind-the-scene tales.
With the absence of sports, ESPN and MLB Network are replaying old baseball games. I generally check to see what game will be playing, but they usually don’t interest me at all, so I pass them by. But I’m glad that I do check because a couple days ago, one of them being shown on the MLB Network did leap out – it was one of the most famous games in baseball history, which as far I knew didn't exist on kinescope: Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Not the final batter, which is all I've ever seen, or a couple of innings, but the whole freaking game! I couldn’t watch it right then, but recorded it. I watched the first four innings last night (I put it on late at night, past midnight, and will watch the rest later) – and it was great. Enthralling.
To start with, between the New York Yankees and Brooklyn Dodgers, the players in the game are amazing. Including pitchers in the bullpen and three announcers, there are 15 Hall of Famers involved. The legendary Mel Allen has been doing the play-by-play so far, but Vin Scully is in the booth, and I assume will come in later. (And during one inning, there was a guest in the booth, and Mel Allen did an interview with Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell-- who is credited with inventing the screwball.)
Then you’re watching and hearing things like, “Line shot to center…and Mantle has it.” “That brings up Enos Slaughter.” “Ground ball to third, Robinson to Hodges for the out.” (I thought, “How cool, Gil Hodges,” but wondered who Robinson was at third. Brooks Robinson?? No, he’s Baltimore…and then I realized, of course – Jackie Robinson! I think of him as a second baseman, or at first. I wasn’t thinking of him at third, where he did briefly play.) “Berra flies out to right.” “Fly ball down the left field line, PeeWee Reese is after it, and it drops foul.” “There’s a pop-up, Campanella is under it.” (Seeing Roy Campanella actually playing is a joy, when all we've generally ever seen of him is in a wheelchair.) And Duke Snider seemingly breaking up the perfect game by hitting one out of the park against Larsen, but it just curves foul. On and on. It’s utterly wonderful.
Then add in how good the players are. Not necessarily with the physical skills of today, but how effortless it is from players who have been together for years and play with a unity and smoothness. (And seeing that PeeWee Reese isn’t very peewee at all, and when he drifts into left field for a short fly ball, he’s taller than the left fielder.)
Also great is that Sal Maglie for the Dodgers was pitching a no-hitter himself through three innings, and only one hit through four – but that one hit is a home run by Mickey Mantle.
And making the broadcast all the better is that the host is Bob Costas and apparently about five years ago or so, he got the battery mates of Don Larsen and Yogi Berra together for an interview, which they weave in every few innings. (Best moment – Larsen talks about getting bombed in his first outing and didn’t think he’d start again in the Series, and only finds out when he got to the ballpark. Costas asks him, “Were you nervous?” Larsen smiles – “Which inning?”) Also, Costas brings up all the Hall of Famers in the game, which Larsen says he’s thought about in recent years which has made it all the more special. Costas adds to Larsen that with all those Hall of Famers, “But you had the greatest game”—to which Larsen says, “Actually, everyone had a great game. They all had a great game. I just had a better one.”
For some reason, which Costas doesn’t know the answer to, there’s no first inning, so it starts in the second inning. But it’s SO great. The whole game!! I can't wait to watch the next five innings. If they repeat it, and if you have the slightest interest in baseball, it’s a don’t miss.
As a bonus, however, the best baseball news today is something totally personal. After I moved a little over a year ago, I’ve been unable to find my collection of baseball cards dating back from childhood and have been concerned that they accidentally got thrown away in the move. But today...but I found them!!! Huzzah.
Huzzahs all around. Play ball!!
If you missed last night's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, his Main Story was a fun but important one about sports -- the efforts to bring them back to the public and the hurdles to be faced that are much greater than would seem on the surface. It's a good look at the subject and much more fun than some of the recent pieces.
I only have two quibbles about the story. The first is that it references announcers, but doesn't include some of the funny videos (like several posted here) that professional announcers have made by doing play-by-play coverage of ordinary events. And the other is that there's no mention of perhaps the most-prominent return of sports that has, thus far, taken place -- that of Korean baseball, which ESPN has been broadcasting.
That aside, it's a good and funny report
This is the annual reprint of a column originally written on The Huffington Post in 2009. And this year is the 16h anniversary of the actual event itself, Some stories simply demand repeating. Or better put, demand not being forgotten. This is one of them. And so, once again, here 'tis.
One additional word. happily Maurice Cheeks is still in the NBA. He's currently the assistant coach for the Oklahoma City Thunder, who made the playoffs this season (though alas were knocked out this week). He also had a strong career as a solid player, and is 13th on the all-time list of assists with 7.392. But though this doesn't count on that list, it may be his best assist of all...
* * *
April 25, 2009
Oh, Say Can You Sing? A National Anthem to Remember
As I prepared to write about an act of uncommon decency by a professional athlete, I realized that calling it that was unfair, that it diminishes what happened, because this was simply an act of uncommon decency, period. That it happened on such a high level and under such a bright microscope might likely stir the heart more, but it's the act itself that is ultimately what stirs us to begin with. Who it was and when it took place simply moves it up the pedestal.
Today is the sixth anniversary of Maurice Cheek's moment on the pedestal.
There is in the American consciousness for notable performances of the National Anthem at sporting events. Jose Feliciano's evocative singing at the 1968 World Series in Detroit was the first to interpret the "Star Spangled Banner" before a national audience. Because 1968 was one of the most tumultuous years in U.S. history, many at the time were so outraged that it took his career years to recover. Today, the rendition not only seems tame, but one of the most tender and beautiful. (And among the least known. If you've never heard it, do yourself a favor and click here to listen.)
Whitney Houston gets mentioned often for her rousing rendition at the 1991 Super Bowl, during the Gulf War. For many, Marvin Gaye's deeply soulful performance at the 1983 NBA All Star is the most memorable.
But for sheer emotional joy, it's hard to top what happened on April 27, 2003, before Game 4 of the NBA playoffs between the Portland Trailblazers and Dallas Mavericks.
Context only adds to the story. So, once again:
This was the playoffs. This is what all professional athletes live for, what their year is about. The regular season is a prelude, an effort to get into the post-season and be in place to win the league championship, to become a part of your sport's history. Everything centers on this. As the start of each playoff game nears, as the roaring crowd is at its highest pitch, as players put on their proverbial "game faces" and the battle is moments from beginning, all external thoughts get filtered out, and focus is completely, solely on their task ahead.
The National Anthem, for most athletes, must be one of those external influences. More than most of us, who hear the "Star Spangled Banner" largely on special occasions, professional athletes have heard the National Anthem played before every single competitive game they've played. Game after game repeatedly each season, and season after season, for decades. Relentlessly. As meaningful as the song is, it is also just part of the ritual for a professional athlete, focused on the game, geared up for the game, anxious to start the game. Silent, not singing, maybe not even hearing the music. Waiting for the National Anthem to be played, and finished, so that they can finally start what they're there for. It's likely as much background noise as it is patriotic uplift.
And so it must have been as the Trailblazers and Mavericks prepared for their playoff game to start.
Stepping out onto the court was Natalie Gilbert, a 13-year-old girl. Just another National Anthem, just another youngster who won a contest, just another two minutes the crowd wanted to get past for the game they were there to see, to start. And she started fine. A little hesitant, since it's a frightening occasion for a child, with a national audience, flashing lights and a military guard. But in her wavering voice, she was prepared.
Except that a few lines in, the high pageantry of the moment got her, and something went very wrong. She totally, thoroughly forgot the words. A young 13-year-old child, standing in front of over 10,000 people, lost. Alone.
And that's when Maurice Cheeks showed the kind of person he was.
Maurice Cheeks had had a very good NBA career as a player. He played for 15 years and was selected to four All Star games. When he retired, he was the all-time leader in steals and fifth in assists. He averaged over 11 points a game. And then he later became a coach, the position he was currently in for the Portland Trailblazers. It was Cheeks who was responsible for his team, responsible for keeping them focused on the game, responsible for guiding them. But he saw a 13-year-old girl in trouble.
And that's when Maurice Cheeks showed the kind of person he was. Immediately.
Cheeks always had a reputation in the NBA as a good guy. But he was about to prove it on a national stage. And what happened next - not just with Maurice Cheeks, but eventually with all the jaded players whose minds had been previously-focused on their game, an entire stadium of basketball fans there to see basketball, even the opposing white-haired coach Don Nelson - is just enthralling.
The moment is wonderful, but how it builds and surprises is even better.
And at the end, this tiny girl looking up at the giant of a man - who stayed around, refusing to leave her side and return to his team - with her face awash with relief, a huge hug, and the clear words mouthed, "Thank you," is all you need to see to why it's hard to top what happened on April 25, 2003, before Game 4 of the NBA playoffs for sheer emotional joy. Six years ago today.
Yes, the baseball season has been postponed, but happily we still have John Krasinski and his Some Good News reports, back now for the third week.
Even if you don't like auto racing, this is brilliant -- and bizarre. A full 35 major NASCAR drivers are starting a "virtual" iRacing series, broadcast on Fox Sports 1 with their regular announcers calling the iRace. Keep in mind that most drivers began with video games. And many likely already had iRace set-ups in their home, complete with a wheel and drivers seat to "drive" the virtual car and monitor.
The first race is on now as I type this (2:45 pm EDT), and it actually looks semi-real, including sound-effects, stats, in-race interviews with the drivers (skyping in videos from home), replays, and visual effects, like smoke from the cars and the weather changing. A funny moment came when one of the drivers tweeted that he had to go to the bathroom, and so to hold down the fort he attached a photo of his dogs in his chair and at the wheel..
And when I said that these were major NASCAR drivers taking part, I meant it. Among the drivers participating are the defending Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin, defending NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, the 2018 champion Joey Logano, 2012 champion Brad Keselowski, seven-time champ Jimmie Johnson, and 2016 rookie of the year Chase Elliott. What's more, even legendary Dale Earnhardt Jr. came out of "retirement" to join in.
The thought was that if this got a good response, they'd make a full series out of it. Given that this is apparently trending #2 on Twitter, it certainly appears to have gotten the reaction they were hoping for.
Just to fill in the gaps and put the proper perspective here, Jurgen Klopp is the manager of the Liverpool English football team that plays in the Premier League.
I wanted to post this a few days ago, but -- as always happens during this administration -- other things came up. And though other things still keep coming up, I wanted to get this already while it's still within the week it happened.
Earlier in the week, there was an event commemorating the 40th anniversary of the 1980 U.S. Men's "Miracle on Ice" Olympic Hockey Team. This is considered one of the great moment is U.S. sport history. The men's amateur hockey team had been crushed by the lead-up to the Olympics by the dominant powerhouse Soviet Red Army team of virtual professional. Russia won 10-3. The young American team was given no chance against the mature, long-standing Russian team. So, when U.S. players won, it brought about announcer Al Michaels' famous call at the very end of the game with time running out, "Do you believe in miracles??? YES!!!" And coming as it did when the United States was feeling down on itself from the Iran hostage crisis, it was a time of overwhelming patriot joy.
Which brings us to early this week. At the anniversary event, 14 members of the team showed up, and it was hosted by Trump. What got so much attention was a photo that the team sent out from their "@1980MiracleTeam" Facebook account -- most of the players, not just standing with Trump, which is understandable and their fair choice, but wearing MAGA hats. It as ghastly, and I have chosen not to embed the photo here.
(To be accurate, these particular hats said "Keep America Great," since this is, after all, a re-election year. They were handed to the players as they joined Trump on the podium, and 10 of the 14 chose to wear them."
Making things worse were a couple of comments made by whoever handles the account, blithely dismissive of any meaning about what they'd done.
As you might imagine, the account was flooded with outraged comments. I wrote a couple in reply.
The first official posting by the team spokesman was "The name on the front is more important than the name on the back." (Referencing the name on "the front" being the words "Keep America Great" and the "back" of the jerseys having a player's personal name.)
To that I wrote -- "What so moved Americans in 1980 was the spirit of a team of outmanned amateurs beating a powerful professional team of Russians when the nation was down. That so many of you now support a fascist administration that is supplicant to Russia demeans all your efforts. It is shameful."
The subsequent Miracle Team comment was "To us, this is not about politics or choosing sides. This is about proudly representing the United States of America. Whether your beliefs are Democratic, Republican, Independent, etc. we support that and are proud to represent the USA. It is an honor and privilege!
What I responded was -- "This is shamefully disingenuous. Wearing 'Keep America Great' hats is entirely political & does NOT even remotely "represent the USA." It very specifically supports a fascist candidate, and you have 100% 'chosen a side.' Please know: a majority of Americans voted against this literal fascist.
"P.S. If you truly believed this is 'not about politics or choosing sides,' you would show American unity & attend campaign events for whoever the Democratic nominee is & wear hats that support them, too -- 'whether your beliefs are Democratic or Republican.' That seems unlikely."
I'm sure there were other online statements from the team spokesman, but that's all I could handle. Please know that as reasonable as the team comments might seem in black-and-white words only, remember that they were written against the backdrop of photos of the team all wearing red "Keep America Great" hats standing with Trump.
Afterwards, amid all the significant outrage, team captain Mike Eruzione did an interview with the Washington Post and said, "I just put (the hat) on. I wasn’t thinking. Maybe this shows I’m naive, shows I’m stupid. I don’t know. I don’t follow politics. I know he’s had some issues and said a lot of things people don’t like."
Yes, it shows he's naive. And stupid. Most likely even disingenuous. Because it's near-impossible for me to believe that someone as bright as Eruzione, who's a public speaker and a "special outreach" representative for Boston University, his alma mater, didn't know about "MAGA" hats and that it was an election year and that it was an election event for Trump and that Trump has had more than "some issues" and merely "said" things people don't like, but was impeached. And that all 10 of these grown adults who put on the hats were just as apparently naive and stupid.
The article quoted Matthew A. Sear, a professor at the University of New Brunswick in Canada who has written about the Trump hats. "It's hard to believe there are still people who don't get that it means, 'Keep America White,' and 'Keep America free of Mexican immigrants." But, he added, "...that's how symbols work. It's basically like a uniform, It's a way to signal in shorthand something.that stands for a whole reason of policies or positions."
How disingenuous were Eurizione's words that it was all just naivety? He went on in his interview to say, "If we knew we were going to piss off this many people, we probably would not have put the hats on."
Probably? Even knowing the reaction of outrage, even knowing that putting on the hats made this totally political, an action that stood for "Keep America White," they -- all 10 -- only "probably" wouldn't have worn the hats. That's not naivety. That's making a clear, aware choice.
“That’s the big question here," Eruzion added. "A lot of the stuff I got was, ‘You guys said it’s not political, but when you put the hats on, you made it political.'
"I told my wife, 'People think we are a disgrace.'"
I don't know if it was a disgrace. It's their own political beliefs which they're entitled to. It was their choice to wear the hats or not as a very blatant, well-aware symbol. If that's what they believe in, so be it. I think it's an awful belief, but it's their individual lives, their individual choices. But the thing is, they weren't just there on stage as individuals, expressing their personal beliefs -- they were there, very specifically, as members of the 1980 Men's Olympic Hockey Team, who together as a unit had represented the United States. They knew well what they were doing, they may not have expected the outrage, but they are not a group of ignorant people. And further, this wasn't their first rodeo -- they've all (individually and together for occasions) been representing the U.S. as members of that team for 40 years. They, more than anyone, know what being a member of that team means. And that's what makes this shameful.
When ESPN ran a feature about that historic game later in the evening, the memory of the game and emotion was wonderful. The perspective of what those players did to it was heart-sickening.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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