by John Walters

Tweet du Jour

We really hope this is authentic.

Starting Five

Korey Stringer’s death was the product of coaches not properly appreciating that 330-pound men shouldn’t be doing conditioning as if they were 180-pound men.

  1. Death And Football

On Sunday writer and frequent friendly Twitter sparring partner of ours Patrick Hruby sent out this tweet:

To which we replied…

To which Patrick replied, after a short back-and-forth…

I want you to read Patrick’s side of the story, which is well-articulated here in a piece that he wrote for The Guardian.  The problem, particularly when someone pushes back on Twitter with reality, is that the Idealism Police come out in full force and reality takes a back seat.

To be clear, as someone who played six years of organized tackle football and spent August days such as this doing two-a-days in the Arizona desert heat: I’m quite personally familiar  with the sadistic attitude toward conditioning that many a football coach has and I’m ALL in favor of having no deaths at all in the sport. The difference between Patrick and I, I believe, is that I do not believe the system can be made fatality-proof.

A few points here:

1. 33 deaths in college football between the years 2000-2016, when easily more than 20,000 young men (probably closer to 30,000, but I’ll skew low) per year play college football. So that’s less than 2 deaths per year, which means that 1/100th of 1% of players will die playing college football each year, i.e. one out of every 10,000 players. Now, eliminate the traumatic collision deaths from Patrick’s sample and we have 26 deaths over 17 years and now we’re at roughly one player out of every 12,500.

2. Of course, the Idealism Police will holler, “ANY DEATH IS TOO MANY DEATHS!” Fine. I’m all for censuring Maryland for failing to follow heat stroke protocols. Their negligence led to Jordan McNair’s death, it appears. I’m all for testing for sickle-cell traits. I already know that players undergo physicals before being cleared to play football in order that they can test for heart defects, etc.

3. Where Patrick and his followers and I part company is the idea that you can make football safe by creating workouts that will eliminate heat stroke, etc. And here’s why: no two athletes on a football field are built exactly the same. There’s the obvious differences in size between football teammates, which is why one Twitter follower’s attempt to silence me by noting how there were no collegiate track workout deaths in that same time is rather uninformed.

But there’s more than that: There are players who will dog a workout and there are those who will go past their limits. Women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, early in his career, set up a workout designed to punish his players for staying out too late and drinking the night before. At each corner of the court he set up a garbage can. He basically ran them until the offenders began puking their guts out. Because no one died that afternoon, it’s a great anecdote and a footnote in the career of the most successful women’s basketball coach of all time. If someone had died, Geno might be selling life insurance in Altoona right now.

I want to address Pat’s pithy tweet about Hondas and known defects. Honda’s objective is to sell cars that transport people reliably and safely. Honda is not about building the fastest car, a vehicle faster than all of its competitors. Moreover, there are no variables in the Honda analogy: You have a defective part, you remove it.

What is the defective part in football workouts? The best answer that Patrick and his allies might provide is, Workouts that cause young men to die of heat stroke. Great. Name me a particular workout. How does that workout vary due to the person doing it and the weather conditions that day. A more accurate analogy would be to recall all Hondas because they are involved in fatal accidents.

(Moreover, as any actuary or automobile exec will tell you, the greatest defect in any automobile in terms of accidents is the person behind the wheel. You cannot eliminate human error without eliminating humans. Jordan McNair did not die because the proper protocols were not in place; he died because people who were paid to implement them failed to do so.)

As Patrick and I were bickering on Sunday, as he was tossing out the Honda analogy, a better analogy was playing out in real life. At the Pocono 500, Robert Wickens crashed and nearly died. Nearly, but not quite. Three years ago, in the same race on the same track, in a crash that was nowhere near as violent, Justin Wilson was killed because an errant part of a car that was in a wreck struck him in the helmet as he drove past. Wilson was not even involved in the accident.

By the way, there are far fewer professional race car drivers than college football players, and 124 of them have died since 2000.

4. Patrick’s answer, my guess would be, is that we just need to make football workouts safe enough so that no one dies. The problem is that’s finding the solution in the outcome, not in the process. And just like men driving Indy Cars are not like motorists driving Hondas, college football players are not simply people trying to stay fit.

Every team is trying to gain a competitive advantage on the other. One of the ways to do that is by being stronger, faster and fitter. I played a college sport. In crew, we reveled in how hard our off-season workouts were and tried to outdo one another. We joked all the time about how it had to be colder than 27 degrees outside for practice on the water to be canceled. Never mind that freezing point is 32 and what were we going to do if we caught a crab and got tossed into the St. Joe River when it was 28 degrees? That wasn’t going to be much fun.

I’ve spoken to college football players who would sneak into dorms that had weight-lifting equipment late at night, after their team workout room was closed, just so they could get in more lifting. These are elite athletes not just because of the gifts God gave them but because many of them love to push themselves to limits beyond most of us would find crazy or unsafe. They want to be the best.

Ryan Shay could run a sub-30 minute 10-K, and he died during a race.

Do I agree with Patrick that no one should die in an offseason workout? Of course. Does Patrick or any of the other well-meaning people on his timeline have a practical solution on how to monitor workouts while acknowledging that coaches and players at the FBS level are extremely competitive and looking to gain an edge on one another? Simply saying, “Just make it so that no one dies,” is not an answer.

As I pointed out on Twitter on Sunday, Ryan Shay was an elite men’s middle-distance runner and the NCAA champion in the men’s 10,000 meters. In November of 2007 Shay, in better physical condition than 99.99% of the humans on this planet, was participating in the Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City when his heart suddenly exploded. Running in Central Park, and relatively early in the race, he fell to the pavement and died instantly. Shit happens.

In two weeks college football games will begin in earnest. Some team is going to be blown out 49-0 or worse and no one, absolutely no one, is going to care if the coach on the losing side says, “We may have gotten destroyed, but we run positive and safe off-season conditioning and no one was hurt doing so. And that’s what we’re all about.”

I don’t like, as a former football player, that anyone dies doing the sport. And I agree that there are some asinine, sadistic and prehistoric approaches to conditioning. Here’s one: Why do any conditioning outside in the heat in shoulder pads and helmet? No need for it. And don’t tell me it recreates game conditions. No one does 10 gassers in a short stretch in a football game.

Yes, there are better methods out there. But I’m never going to insist that a 0.00% mortality rate is the only acceptable number. In any sport. Sports are about risk. As is life.

2. The Kids Are Alright*

*The judges are relieved that the headline did not need to be “Blood On The Tracks.” They will not accept “The Goat Escape.”

It’s the type of story that makes Pat Kiernan and the rest of the folks at New York 1 (the news channel for us locals) happy to be alive. It’s a story involving rogue goats, Brooklyn, our failing subway system and comedian Jon Stewart. What’s not to love?

As The New York Times aptly put it, yesterday morning in Brooklyn a pair of goats were “on the lam.” Where they came from, no one is sure, though there are a few slaughterhouses in the area (Do we eat goat? Did you know that?). Anyway, the goats were tranquilized (“Thanks A LOT!” says Harambe) and then noted wildlife preservationist (and this is why we at MH truly love him) Jon Stewart and his wife picked up the goats and drove them to Watkins Glen, N.Y., where they will live at a sanctuary.

It’s like The Great Escape except it has a happy ending.

3. Matinee Idyll

What’s wrong with this picture? (Answer: nothing)

We were slogging through a slow afternoon at the cookoutateria yesterday—overcast skies and no Yankee game on the horizon for later—when it occurred to us: here’s a summer window with absolutely NO sports on television. Why isn’t Major League Baseball filling the void? Why would it not do this every day?

Hence, our proposal: The Day Game. Every damn day of the week there should be at least one, and often just one, televised Major League Baseball game. How difficult is this? Answer: Not very.

Naysayers, because they always exist, will argue that this is difficult to do for Mondays and Fridays, since teams often travel on Sunday nights and after Thursday nights. Our short answer is, “Tough toenails,” but we’ll work with them.

A. Teams playing on Monday afternoon will never play Sunday Night Baseball, B) The Day Game can start as late as 3 p.m., particularly in July and August when the sun is out later, C) On Mondays and Fridays baseball would look for situations where the home team was home the day before and the visiting team is traveling a relatively short distance. Think the Brewers to Chicago or the Dodgers to San Diego or the Phillies to Washington.

Not only would baseball own that time slot, but kids out of school would be able to attend with more ease. Also, the day game would make the 6 p.m. SportsCenter.

It’s too easy. You’re welcome, Commissioner Manfred.

4. AP-titude

Tate had four games of more than 160 yards rushing last season, all versus Pac-12 foes.

Here is your Preseason AP Top 25 poll

Or, if you don’t feel like hyperlinking:

  1. Alabama 2. Clemson 3. Georgia 4. Wisconsin 5. Ohio State

         6. Washington 7. Oklahoma 8. Miami 9. Auburn 10. Penn State

  11. Michigan State 12. Notre Dame 13. Stanford 14. Michigan 15. USC

16. TCU 17. West Virginia 18. Mississippi State 19. Florida State 20. Virginia Tech

21. UCF 22. Boise State 23. Texas 24. Oregon 25. LSU

What we glean:

–Alabama worthy of top ranking and the Tide have a relatively easy schedule. I’m sorry, an easy schedule. Tua Tagovailoa will start.

–Georgia, on the basis of how easy the Bulldogs’ schedule is, could’ve been No. 1.

–Wisconsin may be the best Big Ten squad, but Bucky plays AT Michigan and AT Penn State after September. They’ll have to earn it.

–The winner of Washington-Auburn should be ranked no lower than fourth after Week 1. There’s a clear separation after the top three teams.

It would be so 2018 if this year the Canes’ staff emphasized blocking kicks, thus ushering in the Blockchain

–We like Auburn, but the Tigers play U-Dub, Georgia and Alabama all away from Jordan-Hare. Won’t finish in Top 10.

–Oklahoma, Penn State and USC all lost players who went in the top three picks in the draft. The Trojans should not be in the Top 20.

–Miami’s Turnover Chain magical season is over. And they’ve lost some leadership. They’ll lose to LSU and at B.C. later in the season.

–We’re dubious on the Irish. Unproven running back and no one knows if Brandon Wimbush is accurate yet. Season really hinges on Week 1. After that, the schedule plays heavily in their favor.

–Arizona’s absence is a mystery. The Cats have arguably the nation’s most dynamic offensive player in Khalil Tate and a pair of true sophomores on defense who may be first-team All-Americans in Colin Schooler and Kylan Wilborn. If the Cats take down the Cougars (BYU and Houston) in Feline Fests in Weeks 1 and 2, watch out.

5. Les Mets-erables

The New York Mets of 2018 are not very good, but they’re also not boring. One day ace Jacob deGrom is pitching a gem and earning no run support. The next, the Mets are scoring 40 runs, literally within a 24-hour span (seriously; think about that). Or crushing the Phillies in Williamsport, Pa., as they did Sunday evening.

Then last night, at Citi Field, they’re into the 13th inning against the San Francisco Giants. The score is knotted at 1-1, and the erstwhile Polo Grounds inhabitants have runners on 1st and 3rd, two outs. Brandon Crawford lifts a hiigggggh fly ball out to shallow left field. Shortstop Amed Rosario drifts beneath it. Left fielder Dominic Smith, who ordinarily plays first base, races toward it.

Boof! (above)

Mets lose, 2-1.

Music 101 

Head To Toe

Vintage mid-Eighties dance tune here from Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam: note the electronic, hexagonal drums and the lead singer who looks vaguely like one of the Jacksons. Lisa Velez was born in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. This song actually rose to No. 1 on the Billboard charts in June of 1987. Could Paula Abdul be that far behind?

Remote Patrol

Dallas Wings at Phoenix Mercury

7 p.m . ESPN2

Cambage, at 6’8″, is a load

Diana Taurasi of the Mercury is the all-time leading scorer in WNBA history. Liz Cambage of the Wings will easily win the league’s Most Valuable Player award this season, as she leads the league in scoring and is second in boards. It’s a single-elimination game, though it’ll be interesting how rowdy the local crowd will be: 4 p.m. on an August afternoon in Phoenix is peak siesta time.

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