Hey, it’s time for a new season of looking at sports! I know that sports go on all the time, but after football ends, sports in general really take a downturn. I always like to turn on baseball, but that’s because I’m old. It’s kind of boring, and the length of the season means that an individual game feels relatively meaningless. Plus, the Phillies just piss me off too much to care too much about baseball. I don’t love basketball and hockey, and while the World Cup was this summer, the U.S. didn’t make it (bwah-ha-ha-ha, but it also means my interest goes down) and Germany (my second-favorite team) didn’t get out of the group stage, so I didn’t care that much. At least Brazil didn’t win! But now real football is back (yes, the game that is played largely with your feet isn’t “real football,” because ‘Murica!), so let’s check out some of the sports that happened this past weekend! I missed last weekend, when college football started, because I was busy with other stuff. And who knows if this will be regular or just when I have something to get off my chest. We shall see!
First of all, we had the U.S. Open and the women’s final. Boy, what a shitshow that turned into, am I right? Naomi Osaka won, but you wouldn’t know it by the way it’s been covered, as Serena Williams is getting all the press. Look, I don’t like Serena Williams. Part of that is because years ago I happened to watch Wimbledon and fell in love with Maria Sharapova as she won (this was 2004), and Sharapova has never been as good as Serena and it irks me. Williams is the best female tennis player ever (I’m not getting into the best tennis player thing or the best athlete thing, because men’s and women’s tennis is different and other sports are different, too), and I can still not like her. I’m not sure why – something about her just bugs me. So I’m not on her side in this brouhaha, and I’ll explain why. In case you missed it, Serena lost the first set to Osaka 2-6 and was leading 3-1 in the second set. Her coach was sitting in the stands coaching her, something he admitted to without caveat and something which is against the rules. Serena was warned by the umpire that her coach needed to stop it. She was not penalized in any way, and the umpire did not, as far as we know, say that she was even benefitting from the coaching (basically the coach was telling her something already knew – that she should come into the net more, because it was working). Yet Serena chose to interpret that as the umpire calling her a cheater, saying that she doesn’t cheat and that she’s a mother and she doesn’t want her daughter to think of her as a cheater and that she would rather lose than cheat. All this for a warning, mind you. Should the umpire have warned her? Maybe, maybe not. According to everyone involved with tennis, coaches do this all the time, and many of their players don’t receive warnings. I would like to point out that it’s still against the rules. Next time you get pulled over for speeding, tell the cop that everyone around you was speeding, too. See if he or she lets you go!
So Serena already had a warning. I heard this morning that she believed the warning had been rescinded, meaning her next infraction, if there was one, would count as her first. I don’t know if that happened, but I haven’t seen confirmation, so let’s assume Serena is wrong. She got mad when she hit the ball into the net to go down 3-4 and smashed her racket, which is an automatic penalty. She was docked a point. At this point, if she believed that the first warning had been rescinded, she might be peeved, and I get that. But once she is docked the point, she has to know in her mind that the first warning had not been rescinded and her next penalty would result in a game penalty, which is extremely severe, I get it. But she had to know that. Second of all, she knew the smashing of the racket would be a penalty, so her next one – whether the second or third – would result in a pretty major penalty, even if it was only a point (which in her mind, it would have been, if we believe she thought it was her “first” infraction).
Then we get to the place that people really have a problem with – Serena’s “calm,” “cool,” “reasonable” objection to the point penalty. She told the umpire he owed her an apology (people are interpreting this to mean that he told Serena the first infraction had been erased when it hadn’t been), that he was a liar (ibid.), and that he was a thief (ibid.). He “stole” a point from her even though the tennis smashing was her “first” infraction, in this narrative. He said she was verbally abusing him and gave her a third penalty, which cost her a game. She got upset, called a bunch of officials out to complain, got nowhere, and lost the second set, 4-6. Match over, Osaka is the champion, and New York fans showed their class by booing a 20-year-old woman who had absolutely no control over what happened between Serena and the umpire. But Philadelphia fans are the ones who suck, right? Sorry, where were we?
So now the racism and sexism narrative begins, but I’m not convinced. Now, I believe that Serena has been the target of attacks that can be construed as racist or sexist. The ridiculous ban on her catsuit from the French Open, for instance, smacks of sexism. I’m not sure why Serena has been drug-tested far more than any other woman on the tour, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some racism going on there. But let’s also be honest: Serena, like many elite athletes, is a brat, and in this case, Occam’s Razor probably applies: She did something that pissed off the umpire, and he decided to enforce the letter of the law rather than let her get away with it. Let’s look at each penalty:
- Serena was warned about her coach. She said he wasn’t coaching, which was almost immediately disproved by the coach himself, who gave an interview saying he was coaching her. Whether she saw him or not is irrelevant; the penalty is assessed to the player whether they reap any benefit from it or not. That’s a clear rule. The umpire never said she was cheating or even implied it; he said he was assessing her a penalty because the coach was doing something against the rules. Serena inferred that he said she was cheating, but that’s her problem.
- She smashed her racket. She claims that men do it and don’t get penalized. I haven’t heard any specific examples of this happening. If they don’t get penalized, it’s very possible it’s because it’s their first violation, which is just a warning. Serena already had a penalty, so she was docked a point. Apparently, this umpire has docked male players points before, so her argument doesn’t hold much water. If she or anyone else can show an example of a man already with a penalty not getting docked a point for smashing his racket, then Serena’s argument holds water. But to argue that men do it and nothing happens to them ignores the fact that Serena was already playing with one infraction.
- She argued with the umpire. This is where people get really upset, because men curse and rant all the time and nothing happens to them, and Serena was so damned calm but people still think she had a meltdown. Once again, I don’t know the circumstances of these men cursing. If it’s the first time they do it, then it’s a warning. Serena had already been penalized twice. Even if she thought it was unwarranted, she knew that the umpire (probably) wasn’t in the mood to listen to her, and another violation would cost her a game. So if a man already with two penalties cursed and screamed, I could see her point. Everyone says that men do this all the time, and it’s true, but in what context? If it’s their first time, they would only get a warning. I also don’t think enough people are focusing on what Serena said. If a man (or woman) says that the umpire is blind, that’s insulting, sure. Serena, however, questioned his integrity by claiming he’s a thief and a liar. It doesn’t matter if she did it calmly; I think that those words were what pushed the umpire over the edge. A lot of the people I see cursing on a tennis court are usually directing their ire at no one in particular – they might be angry at the umpire, but they stand around cursing into the ether. Again, if they rant at the umpire, they might say he’s an idiot, but that’s belittling his intelligence. Serena, again, implied that he was corrupt. That’s why she got docked, I believe. Also, I don’t know when these rules were put in place. Everyone brings up McEnroe, but McEnroe was playing over 30 years ago. Were the rules a bit different then? I don’t know.
Now, we can argue that the rules should change. Coaches should be allowed to coach from their seats. Players should be allowed to smash their rackets (I don’t get that one; it’s their racket, after all – let them do what they want to it). And yes, maybe the rules aren’t enforced consistently. But this umpire has done things like this before, and as a player, it’s your responsibility to know which officials you can push and which you can’t. Baseball players always talk about umpires that they know call a wide strike zone or a tight strike zone, and they’re relatively okay with that. Football teams often adjust based on whether they’re getting a lot of penalties called early on. And there are things in sports you just don’t do. Baseball players and managers know that if they argue balls and strikes, they’re going to get thrown out. They still do it (managers especially think it gives their team a lift), but they know they’re going to get run. It’s just a fact of life. Serena knows the rules, and she broke them. Maybe she was singled out, but again, if I get pulled over for speeding, arguing that everyone else is doing it isn’t going to hold water with the cop.
One thing that few people mention is the bratty behavior of star athletes. Serena is a brat, but so are many other tennis players. LeBron James, for all the good he does in the community, whines like a baby whenever he gets called for a foul or whenever he doesn’t get a call. Tom Brady doesn’t shake the hand of the quarterback who beat him in the Super Bowl because he’s a whiny brat. Star athletes have never been told “no” so they become spoiled brats. So many commentators have said that the umpire shouldn’t have penalized Serena because she’s a star and the spectators wanted to see a star play. I’m of the opposite mindset. I wish stars got called for their bullshit all the time. So I have no problem with what happened to Serena. Again, has been targeted by sexist and racist policies? I’m almost 100% sure she has been. I don’t think what happened to her on Saturday was an example of that, though. Until I see a pattern of men on their third infraction not getting the same penalty, I’ll stick by that.
Anyway, pro football started this weekend, but college football had already started, so I’ll write a bit about that first. Early on in the season, I don’t have much to say, because most good teams are playing crappy teams that they should beat handily. Penn State, for instance, went on the road to Pittsburgh and won 51-6, one of the worst beatings in the series. Penn State-Pitt used to be a big thing, but Pitt has fallen on hard times, and Penn State playing them doesn’t really feel like a rivalry anymore. Penn State is on a different level than Pitt, and there’s really no benefit to playing them – if they win, they’re supposed to win, and if they lose, it’s embarrassing. The death of the rivalry is an interesting story, but probably only to Penn State and Pitt fans. But Penn State did what they had to do – slogged through a downpour early on, leading only 14-6 at the half, before turning it on in the second half. It was a fun game to watch, but probably only for Penn State fans. Their third-string quarterback (who was the back-up because their normal back-up was hurt) got in the game, and threw his first pass ever. This is what it looked like:
What always bugs me about college football this early in the season are rankings. Miami, which went 10-3 last year but lost their final three games after starting 10-0, was inexplicably ranked 8th, which was far too high. When they predictably lost on the opening weekend, everyone bought into the narrative of LSU beating a great team, when all LSU did was beat an overrated team. So they jump pretty high, but that just means when they lose (and they will) everyone will be impressed with the team that beats them, even though LSU is overrated. Penn State played Appalachian State on the first weekend and needed overtime to win, 45-38. It was certainly not an impressive win, but people simply look at the names of teams and not whether they’re any good. Appalachian State has a real chance to go 10-2 or 11-1 this year (they destroyed their opponent in Week 2), and that win by Penn State is going to look pretty good by the end of the year. Will LSU’s win look as good? I wonder. Preseason rankings can be fun just for debate, but they have real impact when the games start, and it’s ridiculous because nobody know anything. I’ve said this for years, but they should wait until October at the earliest to do rankings. Maybe even the end of October.
The other thing that bugs me is Alabama, because they always bug me. But not them specifically, although they’re easy to hate. What bugs me are these “neutral site” games that a lot of SEC teams like to play against other big conferences. I don’t know if the other conferences are scared to stand up to the SEC or they simply don’t have the juice, because these “neutral site” games are always played in JerryWorld in Arlington or Atlanta. The University of Washington played a “neutral site” game against Auburn in Atlanta and, predictably, lost. Auburn is 108 miles from Atlanta. Seattle is 2600 miles away. Does anyone think that’s a “neutral site” game? The SEC thinks it’s the best conference in the universe, but the big teams – those with the power – rarely travel anywhere. I checked on Alabama, and the last time Alabama played a game north of the Mason-Dixon line or west of Arlington was … 2011, when they played Penn State in Pennsylvania. They’ve scheduled three games this century outside of that geographical area. Now, you can argue that most teams don’t leave their area too often, and you’d be right, but it still happens sometimes. Just this season, we have USC playing in Texas this weekend after Texas played in Los Angeles last year. USC and Notre Dame always play each other, and they switch home games every year. Michigan State just played a game in Tempe against Arizona State this past weekend. Ohio State is going to play TCU in a dreaded “neutral site” game this weekend in JerryWorld. Other conferences do it far more than the SEC. Again, I don’t know if some of these other teams just don’t have the power of the top teams, so they can’t convince them to do it. Penn State, for instance, does have some power, so in the next few years they have a home-and-home series with Auburn – an SEC team playing in Pennsylvania? I do declare! – and Virginia Tech. But these “neutral site” games are ridiculous. If these SEC teams want “neutral site” games, the teams they play should suggest … Chicago. Or Philadelphia. Or New York. Or, if you’re USC and you want to play Alabama, why not in Phoenix? There’s a nice stadium here that the NFL team obviously isn’t using for anything resembling football. I refuse to respect the SEC until they start going on the road outside of the South. Until then, fuck ’em.
Pro football started this past week, with the Super Bowl Champion Eagles hosting the Atlanta Falcons, the team they beat in their first playoff game, on Thursday night. It was an ugly game which turned into an almost exact replication of the playoff game. The Eagles took the lead late and held onto it, and the Falcons had several plays inside the 10-yard-line and couldn’t capitalize on most of them. Leading by six, the Eagles let the Falcons down inside the 10 once again with less than a minute left, and just like the playoff game, the Falcons kept trying to force the ball to their amazing wide receiver, Julio Jones, and it didn’t work. The last play of the game went to Jones, but he caught it in the air and was easily driven out of bounds by the defender before he could get his feet down. Everyone thought the offenses were terrible, and they were, but that neglects the fact that the defenses were terrific. The Falcons have a pretty good one, and the Eagles’ defense looks even more terrifying than it was last year. The Eagles are still missing their starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, who got hurt last year and missed the playoffs, so once he comes back, I won’t worry about their offense. Nick Foles, who backs Wentz up, is perfectly fine. He probably isn’t going to torch defenses like he did in the playoffs and Super Bowl last year, but he’s a smart veteran, so he should be fine for a few weeks. I do hope Wentz comes back sooner rather than later, though, because the offense was pretty bad. (You must watch the clip below with the sound on, because the announcers are German. Football and the German language go perfectly together, as German could easily be described as the sound of large men smashing into each other violently. Plus, long-haired dude is awesome.)
— Luke Zimmermann (@lukezim) September 7, 2018
On the first Sunday of the year, DirecTV has their NFL Sunday Ticket for free, so while I don’t watch as much football as I used to, I decided to take advantage of it this past weekend. I watched very little of Bills-Ravens (I don’t care about either team and by the time I got home from my daughter’s therapy about 10.50 in the morning, it was already a blow-out), very little of Bengals-Colts (I don’t care about either team, but it turned out to be an entertaining game), Titans-Dolphins (I don’t care about either team, and the lightning delays in Miami meant that the game wasn’t being played in the first three-hour block, but the second, and there were more entertaining games then – this game, by the way, set a record for longest NFL game from start to finish, simply because of the weather delays), or Texans-Patriots (I did watch a little more of this early, but it became clear that New England was going to win, and I loathe the Patriots, so why would I want to watch them win?). I did watch a bit more of Buccaneers-Saints, 49ers-Vikings, Jaguars-Giants, and Steelers-Browns. In the first game, Ryan Fitzpatrick lit up New Orleans, and as the Eagles are playing Tampa this coming week, I was more than a little interested in seeing that. Fitzpatrick has done stuff like this before, though, and he’s also had some truly atrocious games, so I don’t think he’ll be able to replicate it. Although people said that about Foles after the NFC Championship, so we’ll have to see. I think the Eagles’ defense is quite a bit better than the Saints’, so I don’t feel too worried about the game, but it’s still on my mind. The Vikings looked really good, and they’re clearly one of the big threats to the Eagles in the NFC, but
their new quarterback did throw three interceptions their offensive line still isn’t that great, so that’s comforting. I watched Jacksonville and New York out of some morbid curiosity and because the Giants are in the same division as the Eagles, but mostly because I wanted to see ex-Penn Stater Saquon Barkley, whom the Giants foolishly picked second overall in the draft. I say “foolishly” because they very clearly need a quarterback, and while you can win in this league without an amazing running back, it’s much harder to win without an amazing quarterback. I’m rooting for Barkley because he’s awesome, but the pick was a reach. And Giants fans saw exactly what you get when you put Barkley behind a mediocre offensive line, which is what he had at Penn State: a lot of bad runs, with one huge breakaway (on Sunday, it was 68 yards) that he manages simply because he’s more talented than everyone around him. If they can live with that while getting mediocre-to-terrible quarterback play, good for them!
I did watch pretty much all of the Steelers-Browns overtime, because I love ties and the overtime was gloriously awful (and in a driving rainstorm, which made it all the more amazing). The Browns got the ball and did nothing. The Steelers got the ball and did nothing. On the punt, Jabril Peppers, whom everyone who roots for a Big Ten team not named Michigan hates because he got so much goddamned hype in college but didn’t really do much of anything, called for a fair catch. With this much space in front of him:
Of course they had to punt it back to the Steelers, who actually moved into field goal range, but their kicker missed. YAY! But then the Browns had to punt AGAIN (they punted THREE TIMES IN A TEN-MINUTE OVERTIME!) and the Steelers got the ball back with not a lot of time on the clock, but enough to move it down the field. Except … the Browns got a turnover! They forced a fumble from Ben “I like raping and crashing motorcycles” Roethlisberger, and the player who recovered it ran it all the back to the Steelers’ 10-yard-line! Easy field goal for the win! Except … Browns gon’ Brown. An utterly pointless block in the back penalty (the block came when the dude with the ball was about to go out of bounds anyway and was behind the play) pushed the ball back, still in field goal range but much more difficult thanks to the rain. The Browns didn’t even try to move the ball closer (because why would you when a 43-yard field goal in a driving rainstorm is, naturally, automatic?) and Zane Gonzalez, who played his college ball at Arizona State and therefore might never have even seen rain before, tried a field goal. Which was blocked. GAME OVER!!!! And we get this amazing statistic:
The Browns are +5 in takeaways today. Since the Browns returned to the NFL, teams with a turnover margin of +5 or better in a game are 132-4-1. The Browns are responsible for two of those losses and the tie.
— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) September 9, 2018
That is the most Browns statistic ever.
The second part of the day had some good games – the San Diego NOTLAs-Kansas City, Dallas-Carolina, Seattle-Denver – and one game that I barely turned on, which was Washington-Arizona. I don’t like either of those teams, and I figured Arizona would sink back into stinkiness this year after a few years of relevance, and I was not disappointed. At one point I turned the game on and the announcer pointed out that Washington had 30 first downs at the time, while the Cardinals had 6. Dang, that’s bad. Anyway, the Dallas game was boring but fun because the Cowboys stunk up the joint and don’t look like they have much hope of getting better (I’m not one of those Eagles fans who wants the Cowboys to be good so it will be sweeter when we beat them; I want the Cowboys to never win another game and for Jerry Jones to somehow live forever so he can keep screwing up the franchise), Seattle and Denver went back and forth in an entertaining game, and Andy Reid, as usual, won his opening game and the Chargers, as usual, lost theirs. I love how everyone is gushing over new Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, because the dude had four (4!!!!) touchdown passes. Two of his touchdown passes, exactly half of them, traveled less than a foot in the air – the receiver ran across the formation at the snap and Mahomes used his best volleyball dig technique to flip it to them as they passed, but those count as “passes,” not hand-offs. So we should calm down with regard to Mahomes, even though he did look good for the most part. Then I watched a little bit of the Sunday Night game, but the less said about Aaron Fucking Rodgers the better. Green Bay doesn’t deserve him, because if he gets hurt, that team is hot garbage. Even with him, it’s going to take some magic for them to win consistently, but luckily Rodgers is fucking incredible, because they’re going to need him to be Football Jesus every week. (Below: Dak Prescott living his best Cowboy life.)
Lol Dak pic.twitter.com/ZHMgHrCCT3
— Patrick (@pmc1423) September 9, 2018
I didn’t watch much of the Monday Night games, but I loved the fact that Khalil Mack absolutely wrecked the Packers on Sunday and Jon Gruden had to watch it and eat his own liver for a while before his team went out and got smoked by the Rams. I get that they didn’t want to pay Mack a shit-ton of money (more on that below!), but it had to be satisfying for Mack, even if his team lost. Plus, Gruden is weird, so I don’t have any sympathy for him.
The big thing this offseason was people getting monster contracts, which always happens, true, but this offseason it seemed like non-quarterbacks got paid huge money, which seems weird. I’m all for these guys getting as much money as they can – it’s the American Way! – but I wonder why teams are doing it. The last two Super Bowl winners have shown that you don’t need monster contracts to win. The Patriots get by because they have Tom Brady at a discount, but they also are quite good at cutting guys the instant they aren’t cost-effective and finding guys who work in their system. The Eagles have a quarterback on his rookie contract, and maybe they’ll have problems when Carson Wentz needs to get paid in a few years, but they’ve also been smart about locking up a lot of talent early so they don’t have to pay big money when the contracts are close to expiring. Plus, for almost 20 years they’ve also been smart about getting rid of guys right at their peak but before anyone knows they’re about to go off a cliff. So why don’t more teams do that? The Rams, for instance, better win the Super Bowl this year, because they spent like drunken sailors this offseason, picking players up on short, giant contracts and giving Aaron Donald, their amazing defensive player, a huge extension. The Bears traded for Khalil Mack and gave him a huge extension. Le’veon Bell of the Steelers is holding out because he wants a huge contract. But the thing about these contracts is that except for quarterbacks, no one is worth it (to the team, that is). Bell is a great running back, but his back-up, James Connor, had a perfectly good game. Donald and Mack are superb, but teams can scheme around them and still win. The Raiders might look foolish right now, but Mack’s skills will degrade soon enough and the Raiders have high draft picks next year and the year after, and they weren’t going to be any good this year anyway. I get that players want a lot of money because their careers are so short, but teams don’t have to give them huge money. That’s on the union, which is one of the weakest in sports. The players need to demand more from their contracts – like guarantees – the next time they have to collectively bargain with the league. Until then, they should accept reality. Bell is not going to get a big contract from the Steelers, because that’s not what Pittsburgh does and they can replace him fairly easily. He might get a big contract next year, but he’s not as big a game-changer as he thinks. Bell has been on the team since 2013. In those years, they’ve missed the playoffs, lost their first playoff game, lost their second playoff game, lost the conference championship game, and lost their first playoff game. So they’re 3-4 in the playoffs since Bell arrived. They could have achieved that without him, surely?
So that’s the first weekend of the football season, plus some other stuff. I have no idea how regular these posts will be, but you know I like to rant, so they might be very regular! What happened in your sports world over the past few days? Did a tall soccer player insult your height? That would be rude.
— Jack Grimse (@JackGrimse) September 12, 2018