Sunday, February 19

Homage to Peter King

I'm going to steal the lazy habit of Peter King and offer "Ten Things I Think I Think" about the Winter Olympic Games. But I will spare you the paeans to my daughters' softball teams (not that I have daughters--fortunately for you) and those fascinating tidbits about the quirks of coffee-preparation at the Starbucks in the Green Bay aeroport. Peter King readers will know the bullet you've dodged there. However, in classic King-style, I feel some irrelevant digressions coming on.

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think that watching the Olympics in this country is unspeakably frustrating. Considering NBC paid the equivalent of Africa’s GDP for the rights to show these games, you would think that it would be easier to find out what events are on television and when. I am relatively tech savvy and familiar with how a television works, but I have to scramble to figure out what hockey game will be shown on which of the four channels, each with irregular coverage, and when.

2. I think that the insipid "Olympic Moments" are produced by the same folks who churn out monday night made-for-t.v. movies starring Meredith Baxter with titles like "She Cried Alone" and "A Mother's Justice." If you've ever lived in a co-ed dorm with a communal television, you know them well: they go head-to-head with Monday Night Football. The problem here is not the concept but the execution. I just finished watching a short profile on an American bobsled designer during the intermission of the U.S. – Sweden men’s hockey game. The story was inherently interesting—a NASCAR engineer with no knowledge of bobsledding is brought to Italy to redesign their sleds and revolutionizes the sport—but the man’s engaging down-home personality and the intricacies of bobsled design were suffocated by the melodramatic narration. A new height of preposterousness was reached with the following commentary: “He may not have known the first thing about bobsleds, but his task was clear . . . nothing less than to defy the laws of physics.” Yes. According to NBC, some redneck engineer has transcended Newton's laws of thermodynamics. Did they think to notify the Nobel committee? I look forward to their profile of U.S. ski-jumping coach Corby Fisher:

Coaches are not made, they are born. Corby Fisher's earliest memory is of positioning his baby sister on the roof of their suburban Vermont home and, with an encouraging whisper in her ear, launching her into the snow drifts below. His neighbors never understood this strange boy and his obsession with pushing smaller children off roofs and out of trees, but Fisher's parents never wavered in their belief and their support, or in their care for his sister's fractured arms and legs. Some day, they knew, the world would come to understand his gift, which was nothing less than the ability to teach people how to fly. Literally fly. Like a bird. Not jump. Fly! Seriously. Bear with us here. Some day the world would watch in awe as Corby Fisher's young proteges would slip the surly bonds of earth, and touch the face of God. Literally. THE God. . . .

2. I think it's inexcusable that NBC doesn't show every minute of the hockey games. I missed both Finnish goals against Canada because of commercial breaks. Either do what is done during the World Cup of soccer and continue to show the game in a corner of the screen during commercials, or pause the live action of the game during commercials (using a Tivo-type technology) and continue the game after them. The latter option would add, at most, half an hour to the broadcast and most of that time could be made up during the intermissions by eliminating the “Olympic moments” features or live interviews, which are just time-fillers anyways.

3. I think that U.S. goalie Rick DiPietro should have received a second penalty during the U.S. - Sweden game. DiPietro cleared the puck directly over the glass, which is a delay of game penalty. His first reaction was to motion to the referees that the puck had deflected off the glass and over (which would not be a penalty). Replays showed that this was a ridiculous claim—the puck soared several feet over the glass. Why shouldn’t DiPietro receive an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his action? Trying to deliberately deceive the referees in this way is no different from diving. Which leads me to

4. . . . the problem of diving in the NHL. With the new zero-tolerance rules enforcement, the incentives to embellish contact are higher than ever and my unscientific observation is that diving is more common this season. It still isn’t even close to the problem that it is in soccer, but I hope that someone is keeping an eye on this. It would be a disaster if diving became as engrained in hockey as it is in soccer—to the point where players freely admit to it and the sport's governing bodies don't seem to care. I only assume they don't care because it would be very easy to purge soccer of diving if FIFA and national FAs were committed to doing so. It is far from an original or new idea, but I have no idea why these bodies don’t review all games for diving (they already review most games to evaluate referees, for highlights, and to adjudicate complaints from the teams). Each clear dive or embellishment should be punished by a game suspension, a three game suspension for a second offense, and a five game suspension for a third offense, etc. … You wouldn't catch all offenders, but punishing the worst offenders would at least send a message that diving and embellishing are cheating, and that cheating has no place in the game.

Unfortunately, the current attitude is that cheating is acceptable. What else explains Rivaldo’s open admission that his ludicrous acting job against Turkey in the 2002 World Cup was done to get the Turkish player Hakan Unsal sent off? or Maradona’s (eventual) admission that the “hand of God” was really the hand of an Argie cheat?

5. I think that the tacit acceptance of diving is part of a larger culture in soccer, which permits any player to argue a call with the referee, for whole teams to crowd around the referee, get in his face, and otherwise show their disagreement and disgust with his calls. Managers are fined for making disparaging comments about refereeing in post match interviews, but I’ve never heard of a player being fined or suspended for running up to a referee and protesting a call on the field, which amounts to the same thing—asserting that the referee has made a mistake. Unacceptable. There should be a rule limiting discussions with the referee to the team captain, as there is in hockey, or, preferably, a fine for questioning a call, as there is in cricket. Referees don’t change their calls based on player protests (and, if they do, that is another problem), so such insubordination has no legitimate purpose, but calls the integrity of the game into disrepute. If a schoolboy yelled at a referee during a game, or turned his back on him and ignored him while being booked, he would be instantly pulled from the game by his coach, if he wasn’t sent off first. Why do we hold grown men to a lower standard than children?

6. I think that the hollow medals at Turin are the worst since the crystal medals at Albertville. A medal should be a medal. Not a washer. It just looks cheap.

7. I think that they should get rid of medals altogether, and award the winner a laurel wreath, as in the old Olympics. I like the idea that such laurels would wither: sic transit gloria mundi and all that. And only recognizing the winner fits better with the goal of identifying the best, not the best three, in each sport. But, thank goodness, I have no say in these matters and my idiosyncratic opinions remain mine alone.

8. I think that I have been pleasantly surprised by the genuinely likeable personality of Shaun White. I didn't like what I'd seen of him or Bode Miller in the build-up to the games, but am pleased that my initial and superficial judgment of him (based mostly on his hair and his grin--you know, important things) has been proven wrong. Can't say the same about Mr. Miller yet.

9. I think that you should only be allowed to compete for a country for which you hold citizenship. Why should you be able to compete for a country just because your grandmother was born there? Why stop there? Why not any country any ancestor came from? Citizenship should mean something. Like, for example, you don't wear the flag of a foreign country and compete against your own country. Some sports seem particularly susceptible to this. Luge and bobsled, for example, are hardly known outside North America and parts of Europe. So you have "Greek" bobsledders from Chicago, "Armenian" bobsledders from San Jose and "Venezuelan" lugers from Boise. Not to mention the "Greek" softball team at the Athens games, who spoke with what sounded an awful lot like a Valley Girl twang. The rule should be: Not Canadian? Then you can't compete for Canada. Simple really.

10. a. I think that, despite the fact (actually because) the Summer Olympics are much higher profile than the Winter Olympics, the Winter games would be much more interesting to attend.

b. In fact, I think that if anyone wants to go in on a suite or a chalet in Whistler or Vancouver for 2010, they should let me know.

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