THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
Cuban Referee Crisis
Although basketball season may not be on the forefront of everyone's mind right now, let's take a minute to examine a topic that started to gain some legs in January of this year regarding Maverick's owner Mark Cuban.
The National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA) has alleged via legal counsel that Cuban is influencing referees during games with threats. Based on Cuban's history of receiving fines from the league for his behavior towards referees, Cuban's response denying such acts holds little to no water.
This brings up further issues with officiating basketball, namely the topic of anyone who might be able to "work" a referee, converse to the fact that basketball officials give off the appearance of inconsistency based on how easy it can be to miss some calls.
Basketball is at a severe disadvantage compared to the other major sports (baseball, football, hockey) due to the fact that the officials are in close proximity to the fans (or any non-game/team personnel). In the other sports, the playing fields are set in such a way that fans have little to no influence over the way an official calls a game; baseball sets its fans significantly far back from where the umpires are positioned, while football has a large ring of space for the entire team and its corresponding personnel that buffers the on-field officials from being even remotely close to a spectator. Hockey, which frequently shares an arena with basketball in each city, is set up very much like basketball, but the addition of the plexiglass border (not to mention the constant skating) practically eliminates any contact with fans.
In essence, it's just unfair that anyone, including a team owner, can sit so close to the court and be in earshot of a referee. Sure, it may be nice to sit court side and feel like you're part of the action, but that doesn't give an advantage to anyone, especially the officials. So why does anyone, spectator or owner, get the right to talk to an official in such a derogatory way?
The fact of the matter is that nobody gets that right. It wouldn't be very economical or practical to try to change the setup at this juncture to prevent this from happening, but maybe something has to be done to restrict this poor behavior.
Digging deeper, we come to the idea that coaches infamously "work" referees to get calls for their team. In fact, Cuban's response to the accusation that he threatens officials includes a clause that states that any official who changes his calls based on what he hears from team personnel or fans does not deserve to work in the NBA.
Okay, just back up one second...
Let's start with the philosophical reality of what officials should be doing. They should be calling the game as they see it. No one person should influence or change how an official calls his/her game. However, coaches and players have been yelling at officials for eons (much to my dismay), so how is it that basketball officials come off as some of the most influential officials in sports? In no other sport does a head coach get to talk to an official while the game is going on, forcing multi-tasking that is really impossible.
Practically, however, we can summarize this whole ordeal very simply. Officials in every sport are human. If they reach the professional level, they are probably at the very top of their game, but that doesn't give 100% assurance that they will get every call right. There's a right way and a wrong way to talk to officials, and if your attitude towards officials includes dismay, saying inappropriate things involving threats is the first thing that should not come to your mind.
The best coaches I've encountered as an umpire contain many similar and unique factors, and one of them is the knowledge of the proper way to talk to officials: with respect, class, and dignity, but knowing what you're entitled to know, ask, and discuss. Disagreements happen, but they shouldn't involve the owner of the team threatening to have an official thrown out of the league.
How Can You Not Root For Him?
During the postseason of 2016, Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs was caught on tape apologizing to umpire Angel Hernandez for an act he thought was disrespectful to the ump. The conversation that followed went down as one of the best moments of the postseason, let alone one of the defining moments of sportsmanship we've seen in a generation.
What made that act so special? Was it because Rizzo is a superstar and he took the time to be a good guy? Is he the next Derek Jeter? Or perhaps it was because Hernandez was known by many as a poor official, only to watch him improve so much over the past few years that he would receive such an important postseason assignment. Or how about the fact that we simply don't get to see many of these moments that often, so the fact that we did get such a moment was purely joyous and worthy of recognizing as an emblem of the beauty of humanity?
Well, Rizzo was at it again.
When middle school student Henry Sembdner was beaten up in school for no good reason over the winter, Rizzo took to Twitter to show his support. As everyone in the school wore their Cubs gear to show support for a huge Cubs fan like Sembdner, Rizzo retweeted every picture he saw for the cause. Further, Rizzo offered Sembdner the chance to come to a game at Wrigley and come down to the field during Cubs' batting practice during the summer.
I don't want to put Rizzo (or anyone, for that matter) on a pedestal, but jeez...is there anything he doesn't do well?
What a Kirk
First and foremost, please forgive me for the pun in the title. I'm already ashamed of it.
Shortly after the NFL season wrapped up, a story broke about Kirk Cousins and his true character. On the day before the Super Bowl, Cousins was captaining a team of flag football players playing against a team being led by Doug Flutie. The game was a charity game: the players and the officials were all there out of the goodness of their hearts.
Towards the end of the game, an incident occurred where Cousins thought that one of the officials missed a penalty, namely that an opponent on Team Flutie swatted the ball away from the official spotting the ball, causing a delay in the game and running time off the clock for Cousins to lead his team to try to make up the five point deficit they held at that time. When the official did not throw the flag, Cousins shoved the official...with no remorse.
By the way, Cousins' team still ended up losing.
The official who had been shoved reported that the reason he didn't throw the flag was because the officials were already assessing another penalty against Team Flutie, so Cousins and his team would have received extra time anyway (the same amount that they would have received had the ball not been swatted away).
Then again, this is the same guy who played harder than everyone else at the Pro Bowl, especially after he threw an interception.
Maybe Cousins should try and win a playoff game before he throws his next tantrum.
National "Issues" Day
February 2 is Groundhog's Day, and it may be a pretty dumb holiday. In fact, there are a lot of dumb holidays on our calendar...New Year's Eve/Day comes to mind.
But February 1 is actually an even dumber day in America It's National Signing Day.
This is the day when all the star high school football players reveal which colleges they will attend in order to further their career as a football player. High school kids have "reveal" events that they post on social media; they have press conferences; they basically are thrown into the spotlight with a production that is about as mature as trying to figure out the most unique way to ask a girl to the prom.
Someone is going to have to explain to me why we need this in our society.
I have constantly ripped those who use the exploitation of youth sports to further their goals. I've been critical of events like the Little League World Series and why it needs to be broadcast nationally on ESPN. This is just another example of the unnecessary junk we broadcast...and America eats it up.
It's bad enough that we are harming our youth and forcing them into adulthood with the big reveal of where they sign their letter of intent. Their egos have already ballooned to the size of Montana. They miss out on some of the joys of childhood and teenage years before adulthood hits them in the face with a biggest dose of reality they've experienced. And as a culture, we can't get enough of everything related to college sports. We are now dipping into high school sports on a national level and watching kids who may not even be legal adults yet commit to joining the college team to which we might pledge our allegiance.
Before you know it, we will be celebrating where 8th grade kids decide to go to high school...and then we'll be celebrating 6th grade kids deciding which sports they want to play...and then we'll be celebrating toddlers as they announce which elementary school they will attend...and then we'll be analyzing the decision of parents to conceive a child...and then we'll be dissecting whether or not two people in a marriage will work...
But with all that garbage being such a strong focus, National Signing Day also has one additional unique aspect to it that creates such a false sense of reality that it's time to burst the bubble. The kids who are destined to go to college to play football, as well as their families and friends, are encompassed in a fake reality that this one special person who is announcing his collegiate intent will be the savior they all need to escape the doldrums of the average middle-class life. It's as if their lives were nothing at all until they found this potential celebrity they could worship and pray that he returns with millions of dollars to divide among everyone in his entourage. Both the kid and all around him use it as a day to bask in the glory of their opportunity to show the world that it's their turn to get a moment in the sun. The ideas of personal responsibility and controlling your own destiny have become forgotten in the wake six degrees of separation from a kid who isn't even a celebrity...yet.
No wonder our culture is so messed up.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.