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Category Archives: Sports

Manti Te’o’s Top Five Playlist

We have it on good authority — well, ok, from an anonymous spokesman from the Grassy Knoll Institute for Conspiracy Studies — that the following songs are the five most played on  Manti Te’o’s iPod:

#5)  If The Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me — Jimmy Buffett

#4) You Won’t See Me — The Beatles

#3) Who’s That Girl — Madonna

#2) Imaginary Lover — Atlanta Rhythm Section

And last but not least,

#1) She’s Not There — The Zombies

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Regarding Lance Armstrong: Second Thoughts

So it’s now clear. Lance Armstrong admits he doped from the start, in every one of the seven Tour de France races he won. It’s a fact, not an allegation.

Back in October, I wrote that I stood with Lance, and would still wear the yellow Livestrong bracelet as a sign of respect for his contributions to cancer research, patients and their families. I meant what I wrote. But since then, the bracelet has become tarnished for me.

Call me naive if you must, and many will, but I believed Armstrong when he denied ever using performance enhancing drugs to win races. Now that he’s admitted those denials were all lies, I feel betrayed. I can’t manage to feel angry, really, just disappointed. We all want to believe in heroes, and it’s no fun to realize they’re as human as the rest of us. Yes, Armstrong lied, and cheated, and deserves to be punished for it.

Questions have arisen too abou the purpose of the Livestrong Foundation. Was it nothing more than a “yellow-washing” campaign to maintain Armstrong’s reputation? Maybe. I can’t bring myself to wear the wristband, a symbol of too much deceit.

But I still believe in the foundation, and that Armstrong’s work on its behalf actually has benefitted cancer patients and their families. The foundation does provide resources for patients and caregivers, and that shouldn’t be shortchanged by the founder’s dishonesty.

And I’m still not impressed by USADA’s tactics, or by many of those who spoke out against Armstrong. Some of them had ulterior motives of their own.

Yes, I realize I’m all over the map here, but maybe that’s as it must be. For me, the whole story is a mixed up mess, one that has shades of black, white and gray. I end up a little sadder, a little wiser, and in the words of the Who, determined that I won’t get fooled again.

I Stand With Lance

So Lance Armstrong has been stripped of 7 Tour de France victories.  He allegedly has been exposed as a fraud, a cheat, someone who routinely used performance enhancing drugs to conquer cycling’s toughest challenge.

In the eyes of many, Armstrong has been disgraced as nothing more than yet another in a long line of heroes with feet of clay. To some, the allegations taint everything the man has touched, negating his astonishing feats of athletic ability and his extensive work over the past decade-plus for cancer research funding and support.

Armstrong has stepped down from the chairmanship of the Livestrong Foundation, the cancer charity he established.  Some people argue that the iconic yellow bracelet has become a badge of shame instead of one of courage.  Faith shaken, many will never wear their Livestrong bracelets again.

Not me. I stand with Lance. I will wear the yellow bracelet as a badge of solidarity.

Why? Not to condone blood doping or any other cheating Armstrong is accused of.  IF he’s guilty of committing such acts — and from where I sit, that’s a very big question mark, given USADA’s tactics — then yes, there should be consequences. But consider this — if Armstrong was doping in a sport in which doping was rampant, what exactly was he doing that others didn’t?

Let’s face it, cycling has had a doping problem for years. With Armstrong stripped of his titles, the International Cycling Union acknowledges the second-place finishers for most of the years he won also doped. Now we’re told the record books for those 7 years will indicate no winner. Sounds like Armstrong was still the strongest athlete out there, even among fellow users of performance enhancing drugs.  Should he pay a greater price than the others?

But the real reason I remain an Armstrong supporter is his work with the Livestrong Foundation. In the past 15 years, the foundation has raised nearly a half-billion dollars for cancer research, awareness programs and patient support. Whatever else Lance Armstrong has or hasn’t done, he has been a godsend for cancer patients and their families. He’s been a living example that cancer CAN be defeated. And no one can deny that.

That means a lot to me.  Like many, my family has been touched by cancer.  And that’s the thing — it’s not just an individual disease. It affects an entire family.  The good work of the foundation is crucial to people in desperate situations.

Whether Armstrong cheated is irrelevant when you’re trying to cope with the possibility of losing someone you love. As Armstrong himself noted in the title of his book, it’s not about the bike. Even if, as some allege, Armstrong started the foundation to deflect criticism of his cheating in his chosen sport, I don’t care. The work of Livestrong remains worthy of support, and it will remain a solid part of Armstrong’s legacy.

So yes, you will see me wearing a yellow bracelet. In my book, Lance Armstrong remains forever a champion.

Olympic Fever

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I’m not much of a sports fan, but for just about as long as I can remember, I’ve been a fan of the Olympic Games. There’s just something about seeing dedicated amateurs try their best for themselves and their nation that inspires me.

The first time I recall really enjoying the Olympics was watching the 1976 Winter Games from Innsbruck, Austria. There’s just something about watching people fly down bobsled courses and ski jumps. Snow, ice, speed and the risk of life and limb – what’s not to love? The Summer Games are great too, of course, but the winter events are the ones I enjoy most. Curling’s more fascinating than synchronized swimming, I guess.

Aside from being able to cheer on my fellow Americans, I always enjoy the settings for the Games, especially those held outside the U.S. In days of old, the U.S. TV coverage always included nice little vignettes about the settings for the games, and the cultures of the host countries. For someone growing up in rural WalrusTown, Innsbruck was as exotic as you could get.

Even with the frustrations of the current television coverage, I still love the Games, even the over-the-top parts such as the opening and closing ceremonies. Sure, they’re outrageous, ridiculous even. But in our cynical times, they’re a reminder of an innocence too often lost in today’s sports.

Yes, I know about the scandals, the doping, the cheating, the fabled “East German judge.” But there’s still plenty to inspire. Look at the amazing U.S. women’s gymnastics team this year. Or Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte and the rest of the American swimmers.

Feeling old? Consider the 39-year-old – yes, 39 – gymnast from Bulgaria, Jordan Jovtchev. He’s competing in his sixth Olympics. German gymnast Oksana Chusovitina also is competing in her sixth Games at 37. They’re still competitive in sports dominated by men and women 2 decades their juniors.

Sure, the 2012 Olympics will eventually end and we’ll go back to our daily routines. Nations will compete in other, less friendly ways. The illusion of one harmonious world the Games present will be forgotten until the 2014 Winter Games. But for these two glorious weeks, we can cheer some of the best athletes in the world, and share a dream or two along the way.

In Kentucky, a Basketball Holy War Brews

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As noted before, The Walrus is not much of a sports fan. I don’t follow any sport on a regular basis, whether pro or amateur. Racing (car or horse), football, baseball, lacrosse, golf, you name it, I can pretty much take or leave it.

With one exception — when March Madness rolls around, I can become a raving partisan with the best of ’em.

It all goes back to my upbringing. You see, The Walrus is a native of the great state of Kentucky. Those not familiar with the Bluegrass State might think it’s all about coal, or horses, or tobacco,  or even bourbon. Worthy answers all, but totally wrong.

No, the real identity of Kentucky is tied to one thing — college basketball.

Basketball at every level from elementary school to college is essentially a secular religion in the state.  And it’s primarily a two-church faith. The Blue Church (the University of Kentucky Wildcats) or the Red Church (the University of Louisville Cardinals).

The denominations split largely along geographic lines, with the eastern and southern portions of the state mainly loyal to the Blue Church, and the northern and western sectors swearing allegiance to the Red Church.

Other factors come into play as well. Lexington, the home of UK, is a more laid-back Old-South style town, with rolling hills and horse farms. Louisville is the state’s gritty, urban hub, home to much of the state’s industrial and commercial base. Basketball is one of the few unifying links between the two worlds.

Entire generations are indoctrinated, literally from birth, to be loyal to the roundball denomination of their forebears. No, that’s not a joke. More than one newborn every day comes home from the hospital wearing either Cats blue or Cards red. It really does run that deep.

And now the Red Church and the Blue Church are set to collide in the great Holy War of 2012. Better known as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four. For the first time ever in a Final Four game,  Kentucky’s finest will battle for the soul of the state.

And the stakes couldn’t be higher. For Kentucky, the top-ranked team this year, the one expected to win it all, anything short of a championship will be “cat”-astrophic. To lose to the in-state rival would be even more devastating for Coach John Calipari.

For Louisville, a victory would be sweet revenge for a loss to the Wildcats earlier in the season. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is a former Kentucky coach. A loss of bragging rights to the Cats would be a nearly equal disaster. In the state of Kentucky, this is the kind of game that can turn a coach into a legend — or get him fired.

One thing is certain — The entire state will come to a screeching halt at tip-off time, 6:09 p.m. Saturday. The congregations of the Blue Church and the Red Church will come together to celebrate what can only be described as a basketball sacrament. For the winner, even the championship game that follows is likely to be anticlimactic. THIS will be the most important game of the tournament.

OK, so who  is The Walrus rooting for?

Well, I was born into the Blue Church, a family of dedicated followers of UK. But always being, if not the black sheep of the family, at least a grey one, I’ve never been one to blindly follow, so I questioned.

And when I learned way back when that a Louisville radio station had the call letters WLRS, and called itself “Walrus Rock,” well, that clinched it. I converted.

Go Cardinals!

A Refreshing Touch of Loyalty

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The Walrus is not a huge fan of pro basketball. Occasionally, I’ll watch part of a game, but there’s no team I follow regularly, none I root for, and I have no real interest in stats and standings. But some things in the sports world are just too big to ignore.

Last year’s NBA finals offered a great example. The Miami Heat taking on the Dallas Mavericks was more than a championship series; it was a morality play.

On one side were LeBron James and his fellow superstars. The Mavericks featured Dirk Nowitzki and his journeyman teammates. Less than a year earlier, “St. James” had announced on national television that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers and “taking [his] talents to South Beach.”

In spurning the city that had followed his career from its beginning for 7 years, James became a pariah, and prime example of an egotistical jerk. Even the Walrus was moved to root for Dallas, and was happy when the Mavs won the championship.

Baseball great Albert Pujols left the St. Louis Cardinals under better circumstances last fall after his team won the World Series. But like James, his departure left a hole in the heart of a sports-loving city. When it came right down to it, both men left smaller markets for more exposure — and more money — elsewhere.

We shouldn’t be surprised. That’s the way of the world in sports these days. Go for the biggest TV audience, the most money, the flash and the cash.

Yet for the fans, it’s about more. In team sports, when you preach that teamwork is everything, don’t be surprised when the fans expect you to be a team player. They don’t want to think you’re in their home city just to collect a paycheck.

In recent weeks, Orlando Magic superstar Dwight Howard showed signs of following in James’s golden footsteps, either by a trade he sought, or through free agency this summer. Orlando media outlets have been filled with stories of the impending loss, and what it would mean to the Magic, and to the city.

Howard had options. He easily could have taken his talents to New York, the biggest market, the flashiest city. Guaranteed megabucks. So what did he do?

He chose, albeit at the last minute,  to stay in Orlando, saying “you know my heart, my soul, and everything I have is in Orlando. I just can’t leave it behind.”

That’s not all. He even went on to APOLOGIZE to fans for the “circus” — his word — he caused, and vowed to “do whatever I can to make this right.”

Wow.

Let me see if I’ve got this straight.  Not only did Howard choose to remain loyal to his teammates, and the city that nurtured his career and practically begged him to stay, he apologized for creating unnecessary drama?  That’s the mark of a class act.

Bravo, Mr. Howard. You could have been the next LeBron James. By choosing a different path, you’ve become something much more.

And The Walrus now has an NBA team to root for.

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