THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
To be fair, it must be difficult for the cable television networks that are owned and run by professional sports leagues to find programming all year long. If a sport has an off-season (which most do), then finding things to repeat or broadcast can be quite difficult. What's even worse is when the sport has contracts with other stations for national broadcasts, leaving the network in the dark to televise games in season!
For example, look at the NFL Network. The football season begins in September and ends early February, leaving fans with the longest off-season in all of the major sports. Sure, there can be things to do during the off-season, such as watch the combines, the draft, and preseason games, but the average fan doesn't think much about those things. Further, all NFL games are contracted by networks such as FOX, CBS, NBC, and ESPN; the fact that the NFL Network secured the rights to Thursday Night Football on the condition that it also broadcast with one of the other networks proves just how difficult it is for these networks to even show its own product! Therefore, the amount of "filler" the network has to find throughout the course of a calendar year is monumental. Seriously, how much time can you dedicate to breaking down the potential for a left tackle to sign with a team?
Baseball has it a little easier. The sport is played daily. As soon as Spring Training begins, the MLB Network has the right to broadcast any game it wants outside of blackout restrictions simply by tapping into the local feed of a game. Only national telecasts are off limits.
And while the network is constantly airing games during Spring Training, the beginning of the regular season is met with a regular lineup of shows that have plenty of material for discussion as the games constantly change from day to day.
So what happens during the baseball off-season?
Well, because the off-season is so short compared to a sport like football, baseball has the ability to rework its in-season programming a little and continue to air new shows throughout the winter months. However, that doesn't make up for the fact that shows that feature highlights of the day's games aren't applicable, nor is the option of tapping into a local broadcast of a game to fill time. So, the network has to find certain ways to fill time slots.
Some of the slots are filled with baseball movies...or even movies that have only the slightest bit of reference to baseball. "The Naked Gun" only has one major baseball scene in it, but the movie is so funny that nobody is really complaining when it airs on the MLB Network! Other slots are filled with the repeats of the day's live shows, which is fair.
However, the network also uses a method of showing compilation shows that feature "countdowns." For example, some shows feature the top 10 starting pitchers in the game "right now." It's a debate by the network's experts as to which players are worth their weight in gold. And if we've learned anything from watching baseball over the course of more than a century, it's that the aspect of the debate is a key to enjoying the everlasting legacy of the sport.
But there's one "countdown" show that caught my attention and needs to be addressed: the top 10 ejections of the 2016 season. The network is using the entertainment aspect of players and coaches being disqualified from participation due to poor behavior as a way to fill time and try to draw in viewers when no games are being played.
To this, I must ask one question: why?
If you're an umpire, or if you follow certain forums such as the Umpire Ejection Fantasy League or Close Call Sports, where they analyze the rules of the game and the mechanics of officiating, then examining ejections makes sense. When participants act in such a way that deems discipline, an ejection is warranted, much like a parent disciplines a child for poor behavior. We, as officials, use these situations to determine what behavior warrants such a punishment so as to keep the game in control. As officials, we want to be impartially fair and understand the feelings of participants without letting them express them in inappropriate ways; we want to diffuse situations and use preventative officiating to avoid potential conflicts in the future. Using these types of case plays is beneficial to our education as such.
But is it beneficial to the average viewer, especially for mere entertainment? No.
To celebrate ejections in baseball is like celebrating the times you were arrested or broke the law. Labeling those incidents as proud moments is the complete antithesis of what should be done by a reasonable human being. What's worse is that coaches in baseball (specifically managers) use ejections as a way to attempt to motivate a team; the coach purposely gets ejected in the hope that it unifies the players to play more as a team in an "us against the umpire" role to fight on to victory. News flash: it never works.
Now, if you're airing these ejections as a way to educate the public so as to avoid this type of behavior in the future, then kudos to you! But I doubt that's what's happening; it certainly isn't in any of the advertising campaigns for the program! The hope is that the network wants viewers to tune in when games are not going on, and using a baseball "schadenfreude" is the perfect way to play on the weak psyche of many.
C'mon MLB Network...you're better than that, and you know it.
Back in January, an incident of unsportsmanlike conduct that occurred in a Division I basketball game rose to a level of ridiculousness that questions whether a coach even has a soul.
The background: during the 2015-16 season, New Mexico assistant coach Terrence Rencher was trash-talking during a game between New Mexico and Colorado State. The comments were directed at Colorado State forward Emmanuel Omogbo for unknown reasons.
Fast-forward to 2017 when the two teams met again. Rencher picked up right where he left off, aiming derogatory and racially charged language at Omogbo during pregame warmups. During the game, a skirmish erupted after a clean play was interpreted as dirty, especially since the game itself was somewhat tense and chippy. Rencher and New Mexico assistant coach Chris Harriman were both ejected from the game for leaving the bench area during the skirmish. (Harriman later apologized to Colorado State head coach Larry Eustachy for the incident.)
Following the game, Omogbo and Eustachy were walking from the arena to their cars and happened to pass by the New Mexico team bus where Rencher was standing. Rencher picked up where he had left off, this time adding to his repertoire by rubbing the loss in Omogbo's face, which caused Omogbo to lose his temper and require restraint from Eustachy.
Following the departure of Omogbo and Eustachy to prevent things from escalating, Eustachy's wife, Lana, stepped in and reminded Rencher of the hardship Omogbo has experienced last year when his parents and two other family members were killed in a house fire.
What did Rencher do? He laughed.
New Mexico head coach Craig Neal was asked about the incident, in which he defended Rencher via text message, claiming he did nothing wrong.
For the record, Rencher has a Bachelor's in Education with a focus on youth and community studies. Rencher and his wife have two daughters. Apparently, these credentials and the thought of having others treat his kids this way were not enough to stop him from acting in a way that only Satan would approve.
Last week, we discussed the comments made last month during the NCAA FCS Championship Game by Alabama. This week, we're going to piggyback on that and look at the junk that happened during the Divisional round of the NFL playoffs.
Let's start with players mouthing off so that it mimics what happened with Alabama. Kansas City Chiefs Tight End Travis Kelce went on a rant using expletives to explain how referee Carl Cheffers (who was hours away from probably being named the referee of the Super Bowl) shouldn't even be allowed to work at Foot Locker due to a possible missed holding penalty. Kelce, however, seemed to forget a ton of things before opening his dumb mouth, such as:
Similarly, Seattle Seahawks Defensive End Michael Bennett went on his own expletive-filled rant directed at a reporter following the Seahawks' loss to Atlanta the day prior. The Seahawks' Earl Thomas, meanwhile, went on a rant about how New England Patriots' Quarterback Tom Brady has it so easy each year and suggested Brady wouldn't survive if they were in the same division as Seattle. Thomas, you might recall, didn't even play in the playoff game (which wasn't even against New England as noted, but against Atlanta) while he recovered from a nasty leg injury from earlier in the season.
The Atlanta Falcons were no saints either, however. Immediately following their victory over Seattle, Atlanta set up an event page on Facebook for their game the following week in the NFC Championship Game. The problem? Atlanta played Saturday; Green Bay and Dallas (whose winner would face Atlanta) didn't play until Sunday; the event was up Saturday evening. Atlanta posted the event as their game against Green Bay in Atlanta. (Atlanta would host Green Bay since they were the higher seed; however, had Dallas won, Atlanta would have had to travel to Dallas for the game.) The mistake was quickly pointed out as a trolling incident meant to aggravate the Dallas community and was quickly changed to just a generic game against an unspecified opponent. However, the location was not changed; it stayed in Atlanta, which obviously inferred it would still be against Green Bay.
Finally, following Dallas' loss to Green Bay (as if it were scripted and Atlanta was leaking spoilers), a camera captured a fight inside the stadium that featured a Green Bay fan on the ground being attacked by a Dallas fan who simply couldn't handle the fact that the home team lost. To make matters worse, a tornado watch had been issued outside the stadium, requiring people who were still at the stadium to remain inside and take shelter. The thought of safety to protect human life clearly did not occur to the fan or fans who decided to provoke this idiotic display of fandom.
As a bonus story, a video was immediately posted following Dallas' loss of a Cowboys fan destroying his giant flat-screen television over his team's loss. It was reminiscent of the same type of incident that followed the Seahawks' loss to the Patriots in the Super Bowl a few years prior when the game was all but won by Seattle, only to have one dumb decision in calling a pass play allow New England steal the game in the final seconds.
Oh, one other one...Mike Trout is arguably one of the best players in Major League Baseball. He grew up in southern New Jersey and is a major fan of the Philadelphia Eagles. What did he Tweet out when the Cowboys lost?
HOW BOUT THEM COWBOYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Even our best role models can't keep the poor sportsmanship at bay.
So what did we learn today? If you're a professional athlete, shut up. If you're a fan, shut up. If you're an employee of a team, shut up. And stop destroying televisions that some of us would love to have in our homes!
Maybe "again" isn't fair. However, more often than not, these stories find themselves coming from the archives of youth, high school, or collegiate sports (or whatever you would consider anything that does not include the term "professional").
It's no secret I hold collegiate athletics in very low regard based on the way our society blindly devours the infinite issues they constantly feed us. If you need another reason for this, examine the College Football Championship that took place at the beginning of January between Alabama and Clemson.
In short, this was a rematch of the same two teams from one year prior. Alabama won last year, and they were looking to repeat and post an undefeated season. They had also won four out of the last eight championships in the sport.
But this year, Clemson stunned them and walked away with a 35-31 victory in the final minute of the game.
Now, Clemson is no saint either. Coach Dabo Swinney has done some pretty ridiculous things this year too. But the point of this story is to call out Alabama for saying it was the fault of the officials they lost this game, rather than their ability to outplay their opponent.
Defensive back Hootie Jones went on record and was reported as the point-person regarding Alabama's opinion that the officials blew the game for them. The ridiculous drivel he spewed was met with nothing more than normal, rational people chalking it up to him (and all of Alabama) being a sore loser.
Credit goes to Kevin Scarbinsky of Alabama.com for writing an article that stood up for morals: Scarbinsky called out anyone who agreed with Jones and who actually thinks the officials were responsible for the loss. And if you happen to scroll through the comments of that article, you'll note that there are a lot of people in this world that need their head examined.
The fact of the matter is that officials rarely, if ever, cost a team a victory. For every one call that could subjectively have gone a different way, there are a plethora of events that truly affected the outcome of the game, which amount to whether or not the teams actually executed on the field of play. For every questionable pass interference non-call, there was a false start that could have been avoided. For every pitch just slightly outside the strike zone, there was a batter who couldn't move a runner over to score on a sacrifice fly.
The sign of a good sport is never blaming anyone else for a loss except yourself, even when you might think the game was taken from you due to a bad call. You have the ability to overcome any obstacle, to train harder, to practice longer, and to be better than you were that day. Make that known to the media and the public, rather than showing your immaturity.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.