Monday, July 27, 2009

Vick's back?

Michael Vick is not Adolph Hitler. I think that most people understand this, but nevertheless there are those who insist that he got off light and does not deserve to return to the NFL.

Whether or not he deserves to return to the NFL will be determined by several things, one is his playing ability. Vick has been out of football for two years. He hasn’t had access to the same athletic training and nutrition he had when he was chucking footballs for the Falcons. Vick’s going to have to earn a spot on a team if he wants to make a living as a football player.

He also has to find a team. That’s not going to be easy. Vick wasn’t exactly a great quarterback when he left. He was a remarkable athlete who resented the very appropriate criticism people in the know expressed regarding his abilities. His athleticism was never questioned but a lot of people wondered if he was a liability as a signal caller. Rather than honing his skills to dispel doubts, Vick pouted. The Falcons enjoyed some success without Vick which has a lot of people think that Vick might have been overrated. That’s a touch call because a lot has changed in Atlanta besides Vick’s departure. Still, Vick wasn’t exactly a joy to coach.

In addition to the dog fighting ring Vick was involved in, he also had some issues regarding substance abuse. A big part of the reason Vick didn’t get any leniency when he was sentenced is because he tested positive for marijuana while he was out on bond. He also had the airport security problem when his stash bottle was confiscated. Initial reports that the secret compartment smelled like pot were denied but the whole ordeal seemed like a cover up. A few hundred grand donated to the FOP can make minor charges go way. Especially when you’re dealing with residue and not the real deal

So Vick has baggage and teams aren’t going to want to check it. Did a year and a half of time behind bars help Vick put things in perspective? Did he check his massive ego? Is he willing to shut up and listen to his coaches? The NFL reinstated him but Vick is going to have to pass a lot of scrutiny if he wants to play. Teams are going to poke and prod him, looking for any sign of a public relations disaster. And if he does land a contract, a very modest contract by his standards, he will be on the shortest of leashes. One tantrum, public or private, and Vick will be cut.

It would probably be better for him to play in Canada. The CFL is the sort of league that makes guys like Vick look really good. He could win a Grey Cup or two and maybe set a few records. More importantly Vick would get more money. The CFL isn’t under the same microscope that the NFL is. Canadian fans aren’t going to be as passionate about Vick’s past. They’ll give him a second chance and a little more room to breathe.

Most fans in the US aren’t going to forgive him. For one thing, he’s black. Our society has a much harder time cutting black guys slack. Roger Clemen’s is a big a jerk as Barry Bonds and cheated just as much but baseball fans are more supportive of Roger. I’m not saying that they should give Barry a pass, the man is a jerk and should be reviled by all. The thing I’m saying is the Roger Clemens should be held in the same esteem.

Vick’s cut from the same cloth as both of those guys. He’s a gifted athlete who was spoiled because of his physical prowess. He grew up in the projects but Vick got breaks other kids didn’t because he could win games. He was never held accountable. Neither was his brother, Marcus, who eventually got in so much trouble Virginia Tech finally had to draw the line and cut him.

The NFL should probably draft a policy forbidding convicted felons from playing. I’m all for people getting second chances after they’ve paid their proverbial debts to society but the NFL is in the business of public relations. They don’t have to give second chances. Society at large does, but the NFL is different and should do a better job of insulating itself from troublemakers.

Vick also didn’t get off easy. They pretty much threw the book at him, but because our criminal justice system doesn’t see animal cruelty as that big a deal, the sentence seemed a little light. I’m not going to blame Vick for that. If we want tougher sentences for animal cruelty we need to write tougher laws. Vick’s just a guy who broke the law. He was punished in accordance with it. I think he deserves a chance to move on.

Because the NFL doesn’t have a no felony policy, they have no reason not to reinstate him. Some through Roger Goodell would harbor a grudge because Vick lied to him when the dog fighting allegations first hit the press, but who does Goodell think he is? He’s not Vick’s attorney or his priest. If Vick had been honest with Goodell Goodell could have been compelled to testify against him at trial. Goodell was an idiot for even asking Vick about the pending criminal investigation. He’s equally stupid for meeting with Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers’ QB was accused of sexual assault via a civil action. Ben can’t answer Goodell’s questions honestly.

So Goodell did the right thing and reinstated Vick. He’s not guaranteeing Vick a $10 million contract or making him the poster boy for the leagues community outreach. Goodell is simply putting Vick’s future into the hands of Michael Vick and any team willing to sign him. He really didn’t have any other choice.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Missed it by that much

A lot of people are calling Tom Watson’s showing at The Open Championship this past weekend one of the great moments in sports.


If Tom Watson had won it might have been one of the great moments in golf, but even then I doubt it. Tiger Woods, still struggling to find his stroke after reconstructive surgery on his knee, didn’t make the cut and Phil Mickelson skipped the event to be with his wife. Neither of them are exactly suited for the course at Turnberry, which penalizes the more powerful golfers on the tour, but you have to figure that it’s a lot easier for a the rest of the field to relax when Tiger’s not poised to make a late charge up the leader board.

At the age of 59, Watson would have been the oldest major champion in the history of golf, a mark that would likely stand the test of time but, given the circumstances, only as a trivia question. Ultimately, Watson put such a discussion to bed by failing to make a clinching put and ultimately fading in a playoff.

The fact that he essentially choked robs Stewart Cink of the adulation some think he deserves for winning the event. The story of the day is Watson’s run. Cink just managed to be in the right place at the right time. Some sports writers are trying to bring the focus back on Cink but because of the bar Tiger Woods has set, if you don’t win multiple majors most people think you’re a fluke. Cink’s career seems to support that notion. He’s a solid tour veteran with six career wins in 352 events played. He’s a respectable money earner but not a winner. So until he backs up his first major with, at the very least, a couple of top five finishes in the next four he plays this was just a lucky break. Besides, the fact remains that Tom Watson was eight feet away from closing the deal. Cink doesn’t deserve that much credit. If he had put up a low number that Watson couldn’t chase then we’d have a feather to stick in his cap.

The great story everybody was following this weekend went unfinished. The carriage turned into a pumpkin and Tom Watson’s beautiful gown morphed back into rags, seconds before he caught the eye of the handsome prince. Golf is a sport of winners and Tom Watson simply didn’t win. He played a couple of nice rounds of golf but he wasn’t at his best when it mattered most. Second place isn’t good enough. Not when you’re trying to frame this as one of the greatest moments in sports history.

As far as history is concerned, Watson’s finish is only better than Tiger’s from an academic standpoint. He posted a better score and took home more money but that’s about it. People who think that we’ll be talking about this moment years from now are nuts. At next year’s Open it will be a big deal and whenever some geezer stumbles into contention Watson’s name might surface. Other than that it will become part of Turnberry’s history. The vast majority of golf fans have already moved on and the vast majority of sports fans, many of whom couldn’t care less about golf, lost interest when Tiger Woods went home. Tom Watson was just a blurb on ESPN to them.

No offense to Tom, it’s nice to see him take one of those big checks that didn’t exist in his heyday. He got a little taste of the Tiger era and I’m sure he enjoyed it but his place in history hasn’t changed and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Unless you’re the 18-0 New England Patriots, second place is always second tier.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Phat Albert is juicing!

You’ve heard it here first: Albert Pujols is on steroids.

I have no facts to support that claim and I’m not going to even try to prove that statement. It’s a pessimistic theory based on my belief that most professional athletes are willing to go to great lengths in order to be successful.

I realize that not everybody with muscles is on steroids. I realize that there are people out there who are just freaks of nature. I also believe that a freak of nature can take steroids and/or human growth hormone to enhance their abilities to even freakier levels, like 32 home runs at the all star break for instance.

People will get angry with me for making such a statement. They might even question my journalistic integrity, but I’m a guy writing a blog right now, not a journalist. I am an officer of the court of public opinion. It’s my duty to rush to judgment.

Major League Baseball is proud of its drug program and fans actually believe that the game has been cleaned up. They’re buying A-Rod’s story that he dabbled in steroids because he was young and stupid and give him the benefit of the doubt today. I think A-Rod’s still taking them. He makes enough money to get his hands on the really good stuff--the undetectable drugs that BALCO used to crank out before they got greedy and left their fingerprints behind for the FBI. Marion Jones never tested positive for steroids even though she admitted to taking them. She passed the International Olympic Committee's tests. Tests that make Major League Baseball’s drug program look like a Facebook quiz.

And that’s the real reason I think Pujols is on the juice. Major League Baseball wants him on it. They want all their players on it because homeruns sell tickets. Triple crown winners sell tickets. Without steroids, baseball would look a lot like it did 25 years ago. A couple of beefy sluggers surrounded by skinny guys from Latin America.

Maintaining 240 pounds of solid muscle isn’t hard to do if that’s all you have to do, but combine that responsibility with the rigors of playing 162 games and it’s virtually impossible. When do these guys have time to recover? If they’re taking steroids they don’t need to.

Even though I watched Manny Ramirez get bigger each year, he was the last person I figured would be a juicer. It’s not that he demonstrated a great deal of integrity, but he’s just such a flake I never would have pegged him for taking an interest. It turns out I was wrong.

It didn’t shock me, because as stupid as Manny seems to be the guy does love his cash and in the sports world steroids can mean an extra $10 million in guaranteed money. If Manny connected the dots, he’d take steroids and if Manny can see the logic in taking them so can Albert.

I’d love for him to prove me wrong, but unless he enters the Tour de France and passes their battery of drug tests I don’t know how he can. Barry Bonds insisted that he never took steroids and dared people to prove it, then they’d offer to test his urine and he’d be too busy, or he'd object to the spirit of the test. His name was linked to the BALCO investigation that sent Marion Jones to prison by way of perjury and if Victor Conti ever gets tired of stewing behind bars Bonds could do a few years as well. So it’s not hard to believe that Albert’s sitting on a dirty little secret too.

I’ll admit that I’m taking an easy position. If Albert tests positive for steroids in the next few years I’ll be able to point to this and people can pat me on the back for having the balls to stand up and claim something stank. If he never tests positive I can act like he got lucky, or blame the wide world of sports for fueling my righteous skepticism. I can’t lose.

So what’s the point? The point is I don’t want to be this way. I’d like to see all the major sports take a hard stance against steroids. In cycling athletes are suspended if they are simply associated with cheating. They don’t have to test positive. If Lance Armstrong’s dentist is dealing HGH on the side Lance gets banned. During the Tour de France, and a number of other events, cyclists are being tested every couple of days. In the Olympics test are conducted before, during and after the games. Doping is taken very seriously and violators aren’t suspended for a few weeks or even a few months; it’s years. There’s no warning. Test positive one time and you sit out for two years, test positive again and you’re done.

In the NFL players get slapped with a four game suspension if they test positive for steroids. There are 280 pound defensive ends running the 40 yard dash in 4.6 seconds but the NFL feels its testing policy is adequate. They feel that a 4 game suspension is enough to discourage steroid use. Really? How discouraging is it when a guy can test positive for steroids and sign a contract extension six weeks later?

Baseball’s 50 game suspension sounds pretty stiff but it’s not much more severe than the NFL’s. Manny missed about a third of the season but he got to sharpen his skills at the minor league level during that period. Now he’s back, the Dodgers are favored to win the NL West and Manny’s probably going to bat cleanup in the postseason. At his age, the 50 games off are probably beneficial. Oh, and Manny will still make more money this year than most people will earn in three lifetimes.

The way it’s structured, athletes are stupid not to take steroids. The testing procedures are laughable and the penalties for people stupid enough to get caught are minor. With the kind of money being throw around, why not?

So, yeah, I think Albert Pujols is on steroids. Prove me wrong.