Mike Gundy and Kids Today Nonsense

TMike Gundyhe head coach of the Oklahoma State football team, Mike Gundy, is not happy the young football players under his charge are allowed to transfer from his school to another without his permission. Gundy made his displeasure known by claiming, among other nonsense, that kids today don’t have the toughness to stick with difficult things.

Hey, I can just do what I want and I don’t have to really be tough and fight through it.’ You see that with young people because it’s an option they’re given. We weren’t given that option when we were growing up. We were told what to do, we did it the right way, or you go figure it out on your own.

This is not the first time I’ve heard an older person wax poetically about their youth. How they all paid attention to their elders, how they all knew right from wrong, how all kids today are spoiled and soft. How it was my way or the highway world. It turns my stomach every time I hear it. First off, Gundy is a liar. He knows darn well he, and lots of young people he knew, did not always do what they were told or do things the right way. That coaches often cut them slack. It’s utter crap and everyone knows it. You know it, I know it, and Gundy knows it.

Young football players work harder and longer at their craft than kids did when Gundy was at school. The National Championship team of thirty years ago would be blown off the field by a good team today. The players are stronger, faster, and most importantly, far more educated in their craft. I say this not as a knock against former players, who were great kids also, but they didn’t have access to the training resources available today.

Young players today spend countless hours studying film. When you explain to a football player why this technique in this situation is better and then show them on film, you get better players than if you just say, do it this way. Not only do the kids work harder but having an understanding of why they are doing something makes them better players and better humans. Kids today have lots of stick to it, just as much as kids from bygone years.

As for the underlying reason for Gundy’s moronic statements; the fact a football player can’t simply decide to go to another school without the permission of the first school is antithetical to all my Libertarian thoughts. Coaches can, and frequently do, transfer schools without permission in chase of higher paychecks. The young football players just want a chance to play. Most transfers occur because the player in question is not getting playing time in his or her current situation.

Can you switch jobs without getting your current employer’s permission? Answer me that and then explain what about your personal life philosophy wants to take that freedom away from others.

Kids today, they’re great. Adults with bad memories and a chip on their shoulder, not so much.

Tom Liberman

Carlsen versus Caruana and the Slow Death of Nationalism

nationalismThe death of nationalism is on display for the next few weeks at the World Chess Championship being held in London at the College in Holburn between reigning champion Magnus Carlsen from Norway and challenger Fabiano Caruana from the United States, by way of Italy. In past eras I, and most other people from the United States, would certainly be rooting for Caruana because of his nationality. In today’s world, the nation someone is from is becoming less and less important, thanks to globalization brought by the internet.

Let’s put this in perspective. The last time someone from the United States played for the World Chess Championship was in 1972 when Bobby Fischer challenged Boris Spassky. The pride of the United States was at stake and nationalism was running rampant. Everyone I knew was rooting for Fischer, this despite the readily apparent evidence that he was a complete and total jerk. Spassky, on the other hand, was a man to be admired for many reasons.

Nationalism is a big topic these days but many young people just don’t pay attention to that sort of thing anymore. They know Carlsen because of his internet presence. They are fans of his because of this. His nation of origin is still of some importance to a number of people but that bias is slowly fading.

Certainly, many people in the United States are hoping Caruana wins just as many in Norway are rooting for Carlsen to retain his crown. However, because we’ve gotten to know the two through their internet presence, the circumstance of their birth is of diminished importance. We will continue to see this trend until there are no more nations at all, just people doing things they enjoy with others who enjoy the same thing, chess for example.

I happen to live in the fashionable Central West End of St. Louis where the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis is located. I’ve actually run into Caruana on several occasions while out and about. He seems quite a decent sort. Many people are cheering him on because of his genial nature. Others prefer Carlsen for the fighting spirit he has exhibited throughout his entire chess career. He is prudent but goes for the win rather than taking the easy draw. Carlsen has set a precedent many of the upcoming chess players eagerly follow which makes chess a better sport.

Nationalism isn’t going away tomorrow or next week but it’s going away. That frightens a particular group of people who identify their self with the country in which they happen to live. That’s a shame. The good news is; more and more people don’t really care where you were born or live, just that you play a style of chess they enjoy watching.

As for me? I won’t be disappointed if Caruana wins but I’d like to see Carlsen continue on as champion for as long as possible. He’s been a tremendous standard bearer for the new era of the game. Carlsen’s time will come eventually, maybe even in the next couple of weeks.

Tom Liberman

Cut Soccer Player Sues to be Put on Team

Ladue SoccerIs it legal when a coach decides to cut a high school junior soccer player from the Varsity team and the Junior Varsity team is generally reserved for freshman and sophomores who have more years to play, leaving the soccer player without a team? The parents don’t think so and are suing the school district for age discrimination. This is all happening right here in my hometown of St. Louis, MO at a Ladue Horton Watkins High School and thus catches my attention. There is a lot going on here worth discussing.

I have a long history of playing sports and I’ve had good coaches and bad coaches. I’ve had coaches who showed favoritism and coaches who simply wanted the best players at each position. There’s no doubt in my mind the coach might have unfairly or unjustly cut the player. It’s also clear that the age of the player is absolutely a factor in not being placed on the Junior Varsity team. The coach admits as much in a letter written explaining why the player was cut in the first place. If the youngster was on the bubble, as the letter says, then it is highly likely he has the skill necessary to help the Junior Varsity team.

Here’s the problem with all of that. It’s the soccer coach’s decision and the best player isn’t always the one that helps the team the most. There are all sorts of possibilities in play. Maybe the player in question is the fourth best forward and tenth best player on the team but there is only room for the top three forwards. So, despite being clearly one of the ten best players on the team, there is no room for him at his position. This happens all the time. At the college level a player in such a situation transfers to another school. At the professional level they are traded. At a private high school, they might move to a different school but a public school, such a Ladue, they are largely bound by the district in which their family lives.

The same rule applies to Junior Varsity. A player with three more years of eligibility has more to offer to the team in the long run than one with but a single year remaining even if they don’t currently have the skills of the older player.

It could be the player just has a bad attitude in the locker room and contributes to disharmony on the team. As I said, there are plenty of good reasons why the player was cut but there are also plenty of bad ones. Maybe the coach is friends with the family of another player who was kept on the team. We just don’t know. Maybe the coach is making a bad decision. Again, there is really little way to know.

In the sports world the thing that ends up mattering is results. If the Ladue soccer team fails to succeed in the coming years the coach will eventually be fired. If the coach makes a bunch of poor personnel decisions then failure is likely.

Life is filled with injustice but the final arbiter is generally success. This is nowhere more evident than in sport. I certainly feel badly for the player in question, particularly if the coach’s decision was based on anything other than merit, a possibility I not only admit exist but readily understand happens all too frequently. That being said, such personnel decisions must be left to the coach, not the state.

Tom Liberman

Is the Vandal Bonfire burning in Effigy a Racist Attack?

Vandal BonfireVan High School in Texas conducts an annual homecoming ceremony, the Vandal Bonfire, in which a straw figure wearing the jersey number of the star player from their rival school is burned in effigy atop it. This year photos and videos of the Vandal Bonfire showed a figure wearing jersey number 8. This happens to be a black athlete from rival Brownsboro High. Outrage ensued.

A statement from the district explained the ritual has been going on since the 1940s with a brief pause after some students were injured a few years back. The tradition of the Vandal Bonfire is to have the best player from the opposing team atop it in effigy. The district statement promised in the future it would no longer have such a figure at the top of the bonfire.

It’s an interesting situation in that, if anything, the Vandal Bonfire is actually honoring the opposing player rather than denigrating him. However, burning in effigy is an act often associated with anger at the person being so represented. This combined with a racist history in this nation of lynching and burning crosses stirs strong emotions in many.

It’s my opinion the school district can do whatever it wants in this case. I don’t think the display was racist in any way although I’d like to hear the opinion of the player burned in effigy at the Vandal Bonfire. The very act of burning someone atop a bonfire does strike a nasty chord and I’m glad the district has found a way to move forward with the tradition while eliminating what is something a reasonable person might find distasteful.

Another solution might be to invite the opposing player to the event and allow him or her to set the bonfire ablaze. In many ways it seems we are intent upon finding ways to divide people when, in my opinion, we should be striving for the opposite. We have far more in common with one another than we imagine and getting people together in social settings to learn about these things is something to be encouraged.

It is clear the football players and fans for both teams have many common interests but happen to go to, or root for, different schools. If they were to get to know one another they could play the game and, when finished, possibly enjoy a lifetime of friendship they might not otherwise have enjoyed.

Tom Liberman

JR Smith, a Tattoo, and the NBA

JR Smith TattooA fascinating story involving basketball player JR Smith, his new tattoo, and the National Basketball Association is making the rounds on various news sites this morning. Smith got a tattoo on his leg depicting the company logo for an apparel company in New York called Supreme. The league has a rule against players displaying company logos on their body or shaved into their hair.

I have several problems with this rule. In the first place I think a player should be able to put whatever they want on their body and the league should have no say in the matter. I go as far as saying if an athlete wanted a swastika, a racist term, a misogynistic image, or anything else offensive on their body, that’s their business. Now, a particular team has every right not to sign such a player, that’s the team’s freedom to decide.

My second problem is the rank hypocrisy of the rule. The NBA makes an enormous amount of money through its various endorsement contracts. The Nike logo currently appears on the jerseys of the teams and all sports leagues have similar financially lucrative deals. For them to be pulling in money hand over fist and deny individual players the same right when it comes to a tattoo strikes this Libertarian as grossly biased although certainly legal. The players have all sorts of their own apparel contracts in which they support various companies and are financially remunerated for doing so. Why shouldn’t this apply their own body, the mostly uniquely individual and privately-owned thing of all?

My third issue is that the NBA has allowed several players with tattoos to play without fines for the last few years. This means they are engaged in selective enforcement of their rules. I’m not sure if it has to do with the fact the tattoo is of an apparel company as opposed to a television show but one has one’s suspicions.

In the end, the league is free to make their own rules and that’s a good thing. I just wish people and organizations would realize the freedom they enjoy to do as they please should extend to everyone else as well. JR Smith’s freedom is my freedom.

Tom Liberman

Battle of the Sexes for Science

Battle of the SexesI was just a boy of nine when Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs at the Astrodome in Houston on September 20, 1973 and remember the hype of Battle of the Sexes quite well. It was actually the second match for Riggs after he defeated Margaret Court earlier that year but the first Battle of the Sexes hardly had the media frenzy of the second. There have actually been a number of such events over the years with a variety of rules enforced to attempt to create an even match.

What I’d like to find out is exactly how good are the best women players of various sports in the world compared to their male counterparts. It goes without saying that Serena Williams could crush me in tennis. The only points I’d win would be her double-faults, if she had any. It likewise seems obvious Williams would not win many points against Novak Djokovic. Any attempt to handicap a match so that the obviously inferior player has a chance is of little interest to me.

I’d like to see Serena play a real match against the three hundredth ranked male player in the world. If she wins then play the two hundredth or if she loses try the four hundredth. I’d like to throw the WNBA Champion Seattle Storm against a good men’s college team and see what happens. No handicaps, no special rules, just men and women playing together and see who wins.

The reason I find this interesting is not to somehow prove male superiority to women, which is sadly why I think these sorts of matches are often proposed. It’s clear that in general men are bigger, stronger, and faster than women. Not to say there aren’t plenty of women bigger, stronger, and faster than me; just that the best male tennis player in the world through the undeniable differences in genetics is a better player than the best woman.

But how much better? Let’s say we find the level in tennis is at five hundred. That means there are four hundred and ninety-nine men in the world better than Williams and all the rest of us are worse. That’s pretty damned impressive considering the physical differences inherent in gender.

I’m certain that determining this information won’t result in anything particularly useful nor will it make the world a better place. It’s just something I’d find interesting. It also gives us a benchmark with which to compare gender differences in the future. Let’s say fifty years from now the best woman tennis player in the world can now defeat the four hundredth best male player or only the six hundredth. We can now start to make valid comparisons to players over the generations.

It also could make mixed gender leagues, or Battle of the Sexes, a common reality and that might provide excellent entertainment. Perhaps top high school boy’s teams could regular play women’s college teams. I think there might be public interest in such matches. Money to be made.

In any case, just me thinking aloud.

Tom Liberman

Fortnite Pits Pros against Casual Players in Enormous Mismatches

Fortnite NinjaIn the widely popular video game Fortnite the best professional players pit their skills against rank amateurs some of whom are brand new to the game. Can you imagine a similar situation in any other sporting or gaming endeavor? The situation was brought to my attention by a commenter on my story about Stream Sniping in Fortnite and I think it bears some consideration.

The complaint centered around the idea casual players have no chance against incredibly skilled professionals like Ninja. Ninja and others like him make large amounts of money playing Fortnite and do it for a living. They are essentially like a top-level professional athlete in tennis, golf, or any other sport. Meanwhile they are pitted against casual players repeatedly, hour after hour, day after day. These other players have no chance to win and can grow frustrated.

I certainly understand their pain. I played sports from a young age and, like virtually everyone else, quickly came up against players with more natural athletic ability who put in more hours of practice than me. I stood no chance against them. Unlike in Fortnite, I didn’t continue to play against such competition as I grew older. They went onto higher levels than I could visit. I still played sports but against lesser competition and eventually I stopped playing competitively. A Fortnite player has little choice but to attempt to compete against the very best in the world.

Here’s the issue. The best players deserve the rewards. They work hard at their craft and have become skilled from both practice and natural ability. They deserve to win the game. They should defeat lesser players and gain the prizes. This is the very nature of competition. What is the alternative? Should we punish good players by giving them a handicap? Should we refuse to allow them to play? Do we allow the local high school baseball team to compete against the pro teams but handicap the pros by allowing them fewer players on the field? Do we force the best tennis player in the world to use a smaller racquet and compete against lesser players? The answer is, and should be, no.

This is an excellent illustration of the inherent nature of life. Some people are going to be better at things than you. Don’t be like the commenter who thinks it’s an unfair system. Work harder, get better.

Certainly, the makers of the game could create instances in which players of certain skills were forbidden. This is merely a virtual reflection of what happens in real life. Not only do lesser teams not get to play the best teams but the professional players are not allowed to enter tournaments against lesser players. I think it would be a great idea although implementation might not be easy.

Nevertheless, my point stands. Just because someone is better at something than you, doesn’t mean they should be denied the rewards of their efforts.

Tom Liberman

Harrison Bader and the Easy Five Star Catch

RFive Star Catchecently a St. Louis Cardinal outfielder, Harrison Bader, made a game ending catch that was rated as a Five Star catch although it didn’t appear, to the eye, to be particularly difficult. It gives me good reason to discuss the difference between a metric based analysis and the eye test. The eye test says: If it looks like a difficult catch, it must be one. If it looks easy, then it probably was. The eye test has merit but statistical analysis should always triumph.

First a quick look at how Statcast derives their rating system. They look at four factors. How far the outfielder has to travel to get to the ball. How much time that outfielder has. The direction the outfielder must run. The proximity to a wall in which the catch is made. Basically, Statcast feeds every ball hit into the outfield into a database and applies a calculation to see what percentage of the time the outfielder at that position would make the catch. Anytime the number drops to 25% or less, it is considered a Five Star catch.

When Bader made his catch the other night it certainly didn’t pass the eye test. It looked like a good play at best. This is where metric based analysis is decidedly better than most subjective opinions. Bader is extremely fast and seems to have an excellent feel for the flight of the baseball immediately off the bat of the hitter. This means he gets started in the correct direction very quickly and arrives at the intersection point with the ball rapidly. It’s true that Bader certainly makes that play more than 25% of the time. I’d hazard a guess that he makes it more like 80% of the time. That doesn’t change the fact that 75% of the time a ball hit with a similar trajectory goes for a base hit. That’s the power of metric based analysis.

Remember, Bader’s own catches are part of that mix. Because he catches a lot of balls of this nature that drives down the difficulty rating of the catch. If you take Bader’s catches out of the equation the catch becomes even less likely.

Statcast and its outfield defensive ratings is a relatively new statistic. There will certainly be some adjustments going forward and the larger the data set, the more accurate the percentages. That being said, it was a Five Star catch by the best measurable rating currently available. I’ll take that over the eye test any day of the week.

You’d be wise to the do the same and that applies to other aspects of life as well. It’s easy to be fooled when doing the eye test. Look at the numbers, trust the numbers. Do you know in the United States, violent crime is at its lowest point in over fifty years? Can’t argue with the math.

Tom Liberman

Punishing by Playing Antonio Callaway and Hue Jackson

Antonio CallawayThere’s an interesting story making the rounds about a Cleveland Browns player named Antonio Callaway and his coach, Hue Jackson. Callaway was stopped for a traffic violation and marijuana was found in his car. Jackson decided that Callaway’s punishment should be to play almost every offensive snap in the preseason game against the New York Giants. Many people are questioning this method of punishment.

I won’t keep you in suspense as to my opinion on the subject, it’s Jackson’s team to run as he sees fit. If he thinks it’s an appropriate punishment then it’s his call to make. That won’t stop me from suggesting it seems like a very bad idea from a misguided coach.

Callaway ended up playing 57 of the 63 offensive plays Cleveland ran in the game and was exhausted and asking to be removed at several points. He was refused. This seems to me to put Callaway in physical danger. A player who is tired is not running plays properly which is clearly demonstrated in this age of specialization. Players are rotated in and out at a far greater rate than in previous decades.

It also seems very unusual to punish a rookie player by giving him more repetition at his position. There are certainly other wideouts on the Browns hoping to make the team and each of them was denied chances to impress because Callaway stayed in the game.

All this is certainly true but my original assessment stands. It’s Jackson’s team to run as he sees fit. What’s important to consider is if his methods are working. His record as head coach of the Browns is an astonishing 1-29 over the course of two seasons. He accumulated an 8-8 record in one season as head coach of the Oakland Raiders before he was fired there.

Perhaps his methods are wise and will be part of a turnaround for the Browns and they will become a playoff team. Perhaps this punishment is indicative of a coach flailing away for solutions, a coach who doesn’t know what he is doing or why and his abysmal record will continue.

We just don’t know but we’ll certainly find out. I think Jackson was wrong in his methods and so do some other people. It’s quite possible I’ll be incorrect in this judgment, because that’s all it is, an opinion based on the evidence.

I won’t be personally insulted if the Browns start winning games and Jackson turns out to be an excellent head coach. I won’t defend my position to the death. I’ll shrug my shoulders and say I judged the evidence that was available to me and came to a conclusion which turned out to be wrong. Best of luck.

Tom Liberman

Are Super Nerds Ruining Baseball?

Jayson Werth Super NerdsFormer Major League Baseball Jayson Werth claims baseball is being ruined by hard-core statisticians he calls Super Nerds. The basic idea behind Werth’s claim is that advanced statistical analysis, Sabermetrics, have changed the way the game is played with home runs becoming more valuable and thus increasing strike outs. Certainly, it’s more complicated than this quick explanation but what I’d like to examine is the general idea that statistical analysis is causing harm to the game of baseball.

Sabermetrics came to the forefront of baseball decision making when Billy Beane incorporated the ideas of Paul DePodesta into the day to day operations of the Oakland Athletics. The movie Moneyball was based on these events. The Athletics were very successful with these techniques and soon the Boston Red Sox incorporated them and won the World Series. Not long after this most teams embraced the ideas of the so-called Super Nerds.

The idea is that men and women with advanced understanding of statistics make better baseball decisions than the people who have played the game for their entire lives. It’s no wonder people like Werth and Goose Gossage have come out with scathing comments about the change in baseball and the generation of largely Ivy League educated men who brought about those new methods.

The proof is in the pudding. The methods employed by the Super Nerds work. Sport is a result orientated business and if ideas are failing they are generally discarded. That doesn’t really address the claims Werth is making. He isn’t saying the Super Nerds are making bad decisions that hurt teams, he’s saying they are making the game boring, something no one wants to watch.

I suspect he’s making that claim because attendance is down this year by about 6% although major weather factors early in the season account for much of this. Over the last twenty years attendance statistics are relatively flat with about as many people, 72-73 million, attending games each season. It’s neither up or down. This seems to put Werth’s statements to question.

I strongly suspect great athletes like Werth feel their territory is being usurped by statistically minded men and women with advanced degrees and no experience with the game of baseball. I can understand that attitude. It seems fairly normal to resent newcomers telling you how to do your job.

The evidence suggests the new methods are superior in producing winning teams and have not had any effect on attendance as a whole.

One thing I’ve learned in life is that nothing stays the same. If baseball has changed to focus more on home runs, that will alter the underlying statistical base and a new metric will eventually be adopted to counter the trend.

The lesson, if there is one, is that change is inevitable, like it or not.

Tom Liberman

Terrell Owens and the Football Hall of Fame

Terrell OwensTerrell Owens was recently elected into the National Football League Hall of Fame and, in an unprecedented move, has decided to skip the induction ceremony where he would normally give a speech. He is the first living NFL player to do so. The best thing about this story is the reaction of Hall of Fame President, David Baker. That’s what I’d like to discuss.

First a little background information. Owens is clearly worthy of selection with statistics that stand up with the best wide receivers in the history of the game. He had a cantankerous relationship with the press during his career, some undoubtedly his own fault, and it is those writers who vote on candidates to the hall. They did not choose Owens in his first or second year of eligibility and that is what rankles him. He is of the opinion they did not respect him during his career and then used their position and their dislike to delay what was certainly a deserved honor.

People can, and certainly are, taking Owens to task for his pettiness in refusing to attend the ceremony. Many people don’t like Owens and are not shy about making nasty comments. Others support him and his decision and they do not hesitate to make their opinion of the various writers involved known.

But it is what Mr. Baker is saying and doing that tickles this Libertarian’s fancy: He’s got a mind of his own, he’s a grown man and we need to respect his right to make that decision. Baker goes on to say: If he doesn’t come to the enshrinement, he’s welcome here every day for the rest of his life. Our job is to honor the heroes of the game.

Mr. Baker, if you are not already a Libertarian I hereby formally extend an invitation to our little group. His attitude is, to some degree, the embodiment of what I think it means to be a Libertarian. Every person has a right to make their own decisions, even if these are childish, petty, and ultimately self-destructive. This stands in stark contrast to what I see everywhere in the United States these days. In almost every article I read it seems people from the President of the United States on down think they know best what others should do and that laws, rules, social pressure, and who knows what else should be brought to bear to make everyone else stand in line.

This is wrong. When it is choice between personal liberty and an action that does not directly harm others, we should almost universally choose freedom. No one is being harmed by the fact Owens will not be attending the Hall of Fame ceremony. We should respect his decision even if we disagree with it. Certainly, we can suggest another course, we can ask why he is doing so, we can point out the potential problems, but in the end, it is his life to lead, not yours.

Mr. Baker might have sought to punish Owens by refusing to put his banner up at the ceremony, not having images of Owens at the stadium, cutting video of him in television promotions, and who knows what other method of coercion. A lesser person might well have done all those things. Mr. Baker chose otherwise.

Well done, Mr. Baker. Well done, indeed.

Tom Liberman

Is it Wrong to Point out Mike Matheny is a Handsome Man?

Mike MathenyI noticed an interesting trend on the Facebook posts of some of my women friends in the aftermath of the firing of St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny. Many of the women commented on what a good-looking fellow is Matheny and that they’d miss him for that aspect at least. Male friends immediately responded that if men made such a comment about an attractive woman coach or manager they’d be subject to attack from Social Justice Warriors.

It’s an interesting point because it’s true. Men who make such comments about attractive female athletes are often attacked as misogynistic. The conclusion that men seem to be drawing from this truth is, on the other hand, completely incorrect. They should be able to make such observations and so should women.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with pointing out the attractiveness of another person and women have every right to make such observations, as do men about good-looking women. Our looks are simply a trait, like any other.

Certainly, Matheny’s record as a manager and ability to lead the team is a far more important factor in his being fired than his relative attractiveness. The issue is we can’t get angry at someone for pointing out what they perceive to be the truth. We can certainly suggest his appearance shouldn’t be a factor in whether or not he keeps his job although the women posting made no such claims. What we should not do is pretend he isn’t viewed as attractive by women.

I wrote an article about a golfer named Paige Spiranac and how she used her looks to get an invitation to a golf tournament for which she would otherwise not be qualified. That’s all well and good. A person should use all their assets in an attempt to succeed in their chosen profession and life as a whole. There is nothing wrong with noting such things.

It’s important to make decisions based on pertinent factors. For Matheny, his looks have little impact on his managerial abilities. For a model, her or his strategic baseball knowledge is of little consequence to success. The person doing the hiring and firing is the one who makes these decisions and if they decide poorly, they too will suffer the consequences.

If one of my female friends were in charge of the Cardinals and hired Matheny because of his appearance rather than his skills as a manager, she would eventually lose her job as well. That being said, what’s wrong with pointing out a physical feature that doesn’t necessarily correlate to job performance? To my way of thinking, nothing.

A final point as to Matheny himself. He suffered numerous concussions during his career as a catcher and his mannerisms have always struck me as somewhat dulled. I hope he is consulting medical professionals and I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

Tom Liberman

Del Potro and the not so Bad Life of being Not the Best

Juan Martin del PotroI was watching the Rafael Nadal versus Juan Martin del Potro tennis match in the Wimbledon Quarterfinals when it occurred to be just how good is del Potro, this despite the fact he is not the best. I started to consider the life of the people who are exceptionally good at their chosen profession but are not the best. It’s not so bad.

Del Potro has never been ranked higher than fourth in the world of professional tennis. He won the 2009 U.S. Open but that is his only victory in what are considered the Major events of tennis. He has defeated all the best players in the world from time to time but has a losing record against the three men considered the finest of his generation: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal (listed in alphabetic order to avoid anyone chastising me).

Del Potro is better at tennis than I will be at anything in my life. He is better at tennis than the vast majority of people will be at anything they attempt. He works harder at his craft than I have ever worked at anything in my life. He works harder than most people. For all his efforts he is not even a consideration when ranking the best tennis players of all-time or even of this generation.

Despite not being able to attain the pinnacle of his profession he has managed to earn over $21 million in prize money and certainly a substantial amount in endorsements.

What separates del Potro from those who are considered the greatest? It’s impossible to say. His mental toughness, not quite enough accuracy, his physical conditioning, his strength? There are no answers here. The difference between del Potro and those considered the greatest is so small as to be undetectable, but it is there nonetheless. This means he will never be spoken of in the same terms as those others. This is reality.

Throughout the history of sport people like del Potro have always existed. Players of such tremendous skill and ability that bench warmers like myself can never truly understand exactly how good they are at their chosen profession. Even if they are not the best.

This is where I delve into philosophy. Is that so bad for del Potro? Maybe not being under the same microscope the greatest must face is in some sense its own reward. He has achieved great and wonderful things for which he should be immensely proud.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be the best. I want to be the best writer in the world. It’s virtually certain I will never be so. That’s ok, I’m of the opinion the attempt is of vital importance to happiness. Success is wonderful. Failure is painful. Happiness is the goal.

I’m willing to guess in many, if not all, ways del Potro is just as happy as the other, better, tennis players. Good for him. In the end no one keeps score. You’re dead. How much did you enjoy yourself whilst alive?

Tom Liberman

Landon Donovan should Root for Anyone and So Should You

Landon Donovan MexicoThere’s an interesting story in the world of sports involving Landon Donovan starring in a commercial that urges United States soccer fans to root for Mexico in the 2018 World Cup. There are fairly many people angry at the former star of the United States Men’s National Team and about an equal amount supporting him. I think this story has implications for all of us beyond sport that speaks directly to my Libertarian sensibilities.

The gist of this situation is relatively simple. The soccer, I’m going use soccer throughout this article rather than futbol, team from Mexico is the traditional rival of the U.S. team. The fans of El Tri include a number of hooligans and they have engaged in disgusting and distasteful displays against the U.S. team in the past. There is a great deal of animosity between the two teams. Because of these facts those who dislike or even hate the Mexican team feel betrayed by Donovan and his support for them.

On the other side is the simple reality that the U.S. team didn’t qualify for the World Cup this year leaving fans without a team to support. Mexico is our neighbor and many people who live in the U.S. can trace their heritage back to Mexico. These are reasons enough for many to embrace Mexico and wish them well in the World Cup.

For me, it’s not a difficult question to answer. I’m a St. Louis Cardinals fan and as such my feelings toward the Chicago Cubs is quite similar to many fan’s thoughts for the Mexican team. In the 2016 World Series I was most decidedly not rooting for the Cubs, darn it all.

Those who are lambasting Donovan might think this means I’m on their side in this debate, they’d be wrong. The most important factor in all of this are the concepts of liberty and freedom. I should root for and against the teams I want, and so should you. I have no say in your decisions. Whether or not you root for Mexico hurts me in no fashion and is none of my concern. Just as it was when my sister was rooting for the Cubs to break their long drought.

This simple understanding of freedom goes far beyond sports. If a PGA Tour player or a NASCAR driver doesn’t want to visit the White House when President Obama is there or if an NBA or NFL player likewise chooses not to go when President Trump is in residence, that’s their choice. It’s not my decision and I absolutely should do nothing to coerce anyone into adopting my position.

It is the same for whom you should cast your ballot. It is the same for how you choose to listen to the National Anthem before the game. It is the same for who you decide to marry, what gender your decide to be, which bathroom you use, or what chemicals you put in your body. Our lives would all be better if we stopped worrying so much about what other people are doing.

I respect your freedom to decide matters as you desire. I’d certainly appreciate it if you’d do me the same courtesy.

Tom Liberman

Sports Gambling is Now Legal in Every State

Sports GamblingThe Supreme Court, in a 6 – 3 decision, struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 and made legal all gambling on sporting events in the United States. This is good news for the states who want to reap the profits therein. It is more of a mixed bag for those who wish to gamble because it is certain with this broadening of gambling there will be lives destroyed. I’d like to discuss that dual nature associated with gambling and what role the government has to play in it.

First, let’s examine how the bill got passed so we can dispense with blaming a particular political party. It’s an interesting case from a legal standpoint and the federal government used, as it often does, the Commerce Clause to provide legal justification for refusing to allow states to establish their own gambling guidelines.

The original bill passed through the Senate and the House of Representatives with little opposition from either party and the major professional sports leagues largely supported it. The Supreme Court has now ruled this was a violation of the Tenth Amendment power given to each state.

The Constitution is silent on gambling despite it being widespread at the time the Founding Fathers were writing the Constitution. They knew about gambling and the harmful effects therein, just as they knew about alcoholism and its damaging potential. I cannot in good conscience simply claim gambling is a victimless crime. People destroy their own lives and those of their families by leaving their estate bankrupt. People blow their children’s college funds which can and does have a major impact on their future earning, their entire lives.

Problem Betting is a terrible impulse control disorder, I’ve seen it in action on the few occasions I’ve visited casinos. The casinos here in the St. Louis area are largely not filled with happy people spending a night out with friends but with elderly and disabled people spending their disability and social security money. It is horrific to see and that’s why I largely don’t patronize casinos.

This is why politicians of both main political parties felt justified in passing the legislation that prohibited states from sports gambling. Well, they prohibited most states and most sports. Horse Racing, Dog Racing, and Jai-alai were exempted as was the state of Nevada.

Did this actually prevent people from gambling on sports? Of course not. People continue to gamble although not legally. They place wagers with bookies who are not bound by laws and regulations. Lives are destroyed despite the law. Will more lives be destroyed when gambling is made legal? It’s certainly possible.

The underlying question you must answer if you want to know if government has the right to prevent gambling is if you think people need to be protected from themselves. For a Libertarian like myself, the answer is an obvious no but the problem is more complex. People make horrible decisions and do tremendous damage to their own lives and those who care about them. Is there an obligation to help them, even if means others are prevented from doing something they enjoy?

Is my freedom to gamble worth the destruction of so many other lives? Is my freedom to drive a car at whatever speed I want if I’m very careful worth the lives that will be lost if others, less careful, do the same?

These are not easy questions to answer. I think gambling is a personal decision the government should not be involved in restricting. What do you think?

Does the government have the right to ban gambling to protect people?

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Tom Liberman

The Subtleties of Racism as Demonstrated by Yadier Molina

molina and lovulloHere in baseball land St. Louis there was an ugly incident between beloved catcher Yadier Molina and Arizona Diamondback manager Torey Lovullo. I’d like to use the reaction to the situation to examine the idea that there is nuance to racism. I’m not talking about Lovullo or Molina but those who are commenting on the story.

Many people are calling Molina a thug and worse for his reaction. It’s my opinion the vast majority of those doing so would be defending, say, Roger Clemens if he reacted to the words in the same way. They’d be calling Clemens a stand-up guy who had every right to react to the ugly words in a physical way. Many are defending Molina and it seems likely some would be less vociferous of their defense of Clemens in similar circumstances. That’s the version of racism I’d like to talk about and why it’s such a difficult word to raise in these situations. There are levels of racism and we tend to incorrectly categorize them as all the same.

If my hypothesis is correct, that the race of the player is a significant factor in the perception of events, then that is racism but a very subtle version of it. It’s not someone out in the streets chanting all people of a certain race are criminal thugs who should die. I think the people who are calling out Yadi and would not call out Clemens are not racists in the classical sense, but they are exhibiting an opinion on which race bears a factor. They are guilty of a subtle and relatively common form of racism.

There is no question we all have particular biases. I think it’s possible because I’m a Cardinals fan I’m more likely to justify Molina’s reaction in this situation than Javier Baez of the hated Cubs. I like to think that I’d support Baez should an equivalent bruhaha occur between him and the manager of some other team. Perhaps I wouldn’t. That’s my point. It’s easy to throw around the word racist in situation like this when it’s not truly applicable.

It’s not easy to come up with a word to describe those lambasting Molina who would not do so should it have been Clemens. As I said, I would not call them racists, but I absolutely think that race is a factor in their opinion. For others its not race but team based, they hate the Cardinals and are eager to find fault in the behavior of the team or its players.

The reason I’m writing this blog post is because I don’t think these reactions rise to the level of racism but I’m struggling to name it anything else. I don’t think it’s fair, given the current understanding of the word, to use it.

We are all guilty of racism on one level or another. Most people know it’s wrong to think this way and imagine they don’t.

I’d love for people to examine their own opinion of this incident and see if they think they are being influenced by race. Does me pointing it out make them think twice? Reconsider? What if someone was posting hate about Molina and read this, examined their heart, and said, yeah, that Tom’s got a point. I’ll have to change my mind on this one. That would be great.

Tom Liberman

Bob McNair was the Apology a Lie?

Bob McNairThe owner of the Houston Texans, Bob McNair, recently made a comment for which he later apologized. A National Football League player named Richard Sherman thinks the original statement was a true indication of the feelings McNair has and that the apology is merely pretend. What I’m going to discuss is not the nature of the comment itself but the reality of Sherman’s analysis.

To get you up to speed, there is an ongoing issue in the NFL in which players are kneeling or otherwise protesting during the playing of the national anthem. The owners largely do not like this. McNair was quoted as saying something along the lines of: We cannot let the prisoners run the asylum. This equates the players in the NFL to incarcerated people. McNair was apparently confronted shortly after making the statement and he apologized.

Sherman believes McNair truly meant the statement, that he associates the players with inmates. People who should have no say as to how the team is managed. Sherman believes the apology a lie motivated by politically correctness.

Sherman believes McNair is not alone in his opinion. Sherman thinks other NFL owners feel the same way, players are to be used as best as possible and discarded when their productive years are behind them. Sherman also believes not all owners think like this. He thinks the owner of his team, Paul Allen, does not think this way about his players.

We cannot know for certain if McNair’s original statement is his true opinion or not but I think it’s an interesting question. Did McNair mean it when he compared NFL players to prisoners in an institution? Is he bowing to business expediency and political correctness by pretending to apologize?

I think Sherman’s opinion is legitimate. I think there is quite a good chance McNair truly believed what he said and, upon reflection, realized it was a terrible thing to say. Or perhaps McNair is simply pretending to apologize. That he, in his heart, believes what he original said. Again, we have no way of knowing the answer to this question, only McNair can tell us.

Sherman goes on to make an incredibly interesting point. He says he would rather McNair tell the truth, even if it is antithetical to Sherman’s own beliefs. Sherman would rather know the honest opinion of McNair and thereafter avoid him.

Let’s imagine I know someone whose opinions on a subject are deeply offensive to me. Would I rather they pretend not to have those opinions when around me, or would I prefer if they told me exactly what they were thinking? I find myself in complete agreement with Sherman. If you have an opinion, state it. If I don’t like it, well, it’s up to me to decide if I want to be around you in the future. Sure, when you make a statement I don’t like, I can speak up. Trust me, I do. If you refuse to back down then we are at an impasse. The ball is in my court. I can choose to associate with you in the future or I can choose to avoid events at which we might meet. If we do meet, I can choose to circumvent topics of conversation where I know we conflict and focus on areas where we might agree.

I do not disagree with anyone about all things nor do I agree completely with anyone on all subjects. I, like Sherman, would prefer to know you true opinions. Then I can make judgments and take actions that I deem appropriate.

My opinions are in my blogs and my novels for all to see. I’m an Atheist. I’m a Libertarian. I don’t suffer fools lightly. If that offends you, and there are many who are offended, then the ball is in your court. You can choose to engage me or avoid me. You can choose not to be friends with me on Facebook so you don’t have to see my thoughts on various topics. That’s cool. I respect that.

I think that’s Sherman’s point here. He wants McNair to be honest. If they disagree, so be it. What he doesn’t like is saying one thing while behind the scenes doing something else entirely. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t apologize if you say something and upon further examination realize it was truly awful. You are allowed to change your opinion. I certainly hope McNair is truly sorry for what he said, that he realizes the condescending nature of his statement. Then the apology is warranted and should be accepted.

I’m sure Sherman, and others, will be watching McNair more closely in the future. Will his actions down the road support his original statement or the apology? That’s the true test. We can say anything we want. It’s our actions that prove the integrity of our words.

Tom Liberman

Garry Kasparov Disses Jennifer Shahade

garry-kasparovI’m lucky enough to live in the Central West End where the St. Louis Chess club is currently hosting the Sinquefield Cup and recently former World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov visited the studio and joined Yasser Seirawan and Jennifer Shahade. During his chat, he essentially completely ignored Shahade both in spoken words and body language.

It’s an interesting situation because I doubt Kasparov is misogynistic. The first reality we must take into account is that Seirawan is objectively a better chess player than Shahade. Therefore, when analyzing the various games, it was to be expected that Kasparov would rely more on the opinion of Seirawan.

The second thing we must take into account is that Kasparov is somewhat, or perhaps a great deal, a pompous jerk. Not to say he doesn’t deserve to think highly of himself, he was the best chess player in the world for a very long time and it can be argued he is the best to have ever played the game. He doesn’t suffer fools lightly, as the saying goes.

But, even taking all of that into account, Kasparov barely even gave indication that he knew Shahade was in the room, occasionally glancing at her with his eyes but never directly addressing her or asking her any questions. He leaned toward Seirawan the entire time he was in the studio. The mood was so obvious the camera crew focused in on the two men in a tight shot for the majority of the interview.

The obvious conclusion we can draw is that Kasparov is misogynistic, but I’ve already said I don’t think he is such. Chess is a sport that is dominated by men even today, but was even more so in the era when Kasparov was world champion. It’s most likely, although I am not certain, Kasparov never analyzed a single chess game in his long career with a woman.

Of particular note is his opinion of Judit Polgar who is largely considered the best woman chess player in history. Early in her career Kasparov was asked about her potential and gave what can only be called a misogynistic statement: She has fantastic chess talent, but she is, after all, a woman. It all comes down to the imperfections of the feminine psyche. No woman can sustain a prolonged battle. Later in life, however, after he had lost a rapid game against Polgar in 2002, Kasparov revised his opinion: The Polgars showed that there are no inherent limitations to their aptitude ….

I think it’s fair to say Kasparov maintains some dismissive attitudes towards women chess players and it came through, certainly unintentionally, during the interview.

I think the lesson here is that you don’t have to be overly sexist, racist, anti-Semitic, or any other sort of particular prejudice in order to behave like you are so. Be careful out there, people are watching!

Tom Liberman

Josh Rosen Disses Alabama Misleading Headline

josh-rosenThe Headline Screams: UCLA Quarterback Josh Rosen: Raise the SAT Requirement at Alabama and See what kind of team they have.

It seems like if you use a direct quote from someone it can’t possibly be a misleading headline but that’s exactly what happened in this case. What Rosen was talking about is the terrible incongruity between being a college football player and being a student. In the majority if the article he talks about how spending last season injured was a hugely eye opening experience. He was able to spend more time taking classes than he would normally be allowed to do. He learned that many of the requirements of his economic major are not even available at the times his normally limited schedule allow.

He used the Alabama quote not to deride Alabama but to simply illustrate that it’s impossible for many of the best young football players in the nation to also excel at academics. What he said, and I think he said it effectively, is that no Division I college football team is made up of athletes who are stellar students. That if we want to limit college athletes to the best students, the quality of football will suffer.

He was saying that the job of being a college athlete largely precludes being a strong student. Both are jobs and you can’t work hard at one without the second suffering. The primary job of young college football players is to play, not to study. Their schedules are designed to make it extremely difficult to accomplish both.

Perhaps he should have used UCLA as an example rather than Alabama but I have no problem with his basic point and I hate to see him getting trashed because of a Misleading Headline.

Tom Liberman

Donald De La Haye cannot Monetize YouTube and Play College Football

donald de la hayeI’m a Libertarian and my hate for the National Collegiate Athletic Association is as great as my dislike for any government agency. The case of Donald De La Haye reinforces that opinion. De La Haye has a YouTube channel which earns him money. The NCAA told him he is not allowed to do that unless none of his videos involves his athletic endeavors, which are essentially a significant part of everything he does.

De La Haye’s channel had over fifty-thousand followers before the controversy and more now. YouTube has a legal agreement with members that pays them money depending upon a number of factors including how many people watch the videos.

It’s important to understand that in addition to being good at YouTube, De La Haye is also good enough at football to have received an athletic scholarship from the University of Central Florida. This means he doesn’t have to pay tuition, room, and board while attending the University in exchange for playing football for the Knights.

In essence, De La Haye was told to either give up your YouTube channel or your scholarship. He chose the scholarship. I think it’s a wonderful decision but I’m saddened he was forced to make it.

Now, some of you will be confused as to why the NCAA does not allow its student athletes to have jobs. The idea is that in the past, star athletes were given essentially fake jobs and paid a good salary as an incentive to attend a particular school. Rather than spend the time and effort required to ferret out those doing wrong, the NCAA decided to punish every student-athlete by preventing them from getting a job. This rule predominantly hurt athletes from economically disadvantaged families because they need extra money for things like purchasing dinner for a romantic interest or having a night out with friends.

Basically, throwing the baby out with the bathwater as the expression goes. The NCAA recently agreed to allow exceptions to the rule which is why De La Haye was permitted to appeal and was given the supposed choice to continue his YouTube channel as long as he didn’t talk about his athletic endeavors. This was, of course, no choice at all. His entire life is largely wrapped around his athletic prowess. What the NCAA was asking was essentially impossible. How could he make any honest video about his life without mentioning football? But even that’s not the problem. Why shouldn’t he make money talking about football? What right does the NCAA have to prevent anyone from making a living?

The NCAA prevents athletes from selling their own signature to willing buyers but sells them itself in the form of silent auctions. The NCAA doesn’t put the names of the players on the backs of the jersey so the organization doesn’t have to give any money they get from sales to the athletes. I find the entire thing disgusting.

If a young man builds a career for himself we should be encouraging him. Sure, part of the reason he is popular on YouTube is because he is a good football player, but why shouldn’t he be able to profit off of that? Such profit is directly in line with the capitalistic ideals of our country.

Let the kid play. Let the kid make some money.

Tom Liberman