Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Bonjour!

I ate my Pop-Tarts while watching SportsCenter yesterday morning.

This is a far cry from how last week’s mornings were spent.

Last week I was eating fresh baked brioche and croissants covered in fresh butter and preserves for breakfast while conversing with friends in a foreign country that had never heard of SportsCenter, let alone broadcast it.

Last week, I was in France on a dream vacation (hence the absence of my byline from The Sun). One that included about three minutes of anything sports related.

My three minutes of sports included a drive by the Stade de France, an 80,000 capacity stadium that houses the French rugby and football (soccer) teams. Then I caught about 20 seconds of football clips on the French-speaking news station.

And I wasn’t even trying to isolate myself from sports.

The French culture does not put such a high value on sports like the U.S. does. The papers might have a page, at most, of sports coverage, not entire sections like we do.

For the most part, schools don’t put an emphasis on athletic extra-curricular activity. There are no basketball teams competing for district titles, no baseball teams running bases and certainly no dirt track racing.

A French native I spent a good deal of time with this week said her high school, which is considerably different than one in the U.S., had a fairly prestigious rugby team., which, again, was unusual for French schools. Her focus growing up had been spent on learning: She knows three languages, and is studying to become a journalist, which I understand to be a prestigious and hard-to-achieve status in France.

I did come to know that the French football team in Marseille, the Olympique de Marseille, is a pretty big deal. Say one word against it in a bistro and you might get knifed.

But other than the world fetish of football that the U.S. still has yet to grasp, I was without sports (which wasn’t a bad thing at all for me while on vacation).

Now that I am back in the U.S., I am amazed to see how much of sports consume my life, despite being the main theme behind my profession. I can’t drive five miles in any direction without coming into contact with it in any way.

Rolling into Reidland, Lone Oak, and Calloway County are highway signs proclaiming state champions of some sort. In France, signs like that might say, “Aix en Provence: Home of Paul C├ęzanne.” (He’s a famous Impressionist painter for the curious)

I’m not complaining, and I’m not praising. It’s just one of many cultural differences between the U.S. and other countries.

****

One of the highlights of my trip was touring the principality of Monaco, which just happened to be setting up for the 79th Monaco Grand Prix.




Monaco is an affluent “country” surrounded by France and the Mediterranean Sea that speaks French, is defended by the French and whose football team competes in the French National Championship. But it’s not in France.

Anyway, traipsing along the streets of Monte Carlo, we discovered all sorts of barriers being put up and construction. Upon further inspection, the barriers were for safety and the sides of the streets were painted with red and white stripes for boundaries. The grandstands were being built on top of store fronts and banners were everywhere advertising for the May 25 race.



The famous Grand Prix snakes through the city and is thought to be one of the most dangerous courses in the world. The streets are narrow, the course has a tunnel and two drivers have lost their lives when they tumbled off the course and into the sea.

Formula 1 might not be my kind of racing, but even I can salivate over one of the coolest events in motorsports history.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Media's madness about women's athletics

As of 1:00 p.m. on the front page of espn.com, there is nothing about the National Championship game that was played on Tuesday night.

If you got all of your sports news from espn.com, you would likely have missed the women’s NCAA National Championship game entirely last night.

I’m more than mad with what our media has done to help the cause of women’s basketball and women’s sports in general.

For the men’s NCAA National Championship game, days were spent giving credence to the two teams involved: Kansas and Memphis. Espn.com designed a whole new top to its front page, involving cutout pictures of players and coaches as a preview to Monday night’s game.

The next day, Tuesday, the day of the women’s NCAA National Championship game, a feature story on Tiger Woods’ caddie took up the main story spot nearly all day on the Web site. The women’s game preview didn’t show up prominently until about three hours before game time. No fancy headlines. No fancy cutout photos. No extra fanfare.

And now, at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, there is not even one headline link to a story about last night’s game. That was not the case yesterday reporting on the men’s game.

The women’s game was shown on ESPN. The men’s game was shown on the CBS network. My parents, along with countless other people in the world, still don’t have cable or satellite and were barely aware the game was even going on.

I watched the game, and also watched all the promos for ESPN. The cable network actually split-screened for a moment, coming out of a timeout, to highlight Manny Ramirez as he ran the bases to score for the Red Sox on a Placido Polanco error.

Millions of people would have killed CBS had they split-screened to highlight a promo for the nightly news. But apparently since it’s a women’s game, it’s OK to show some disrespect.

Best plays of the day that night on ESPN’s highlights did not include a single play from the women’s championship game. Instead, we watched two highlights for foreign soccer.

And it’s not just this Web site that has me mad, it’s the whole media and pop culture surrounding the sport. It’s the people who still come at me saying they’d rather watch “paint dry” than a women’s or girls’ basketball game.

Sports Illustrated has a link for Tennessee’s title game, as the third in a list of the top stories. An NFL mock draft and NHL previews headline the top feature spot.

Do we have office pools fixed on the women’s bracket? Of course not.

Where is all the fanfare for Tennessee coach Pat Summitt’s eighth National Championship? She is only two away from tying John Wooden’s collection of 10 while at UCLA. The program is one of a handful that has won back-to-back titles.

I’m more than bitter. I’m mad. The disparity has gotten better with time, no doubt, and I applaud that. And when you think of other women’s sports that get no media coverage on any level, that bristles my feathers, too.

It starts with the fans, people. Start buying tickets and going to games. Please prove to the media that women’s basketball is something to get behind. Because when the people want it, the media generally responds.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rain, rain, more of the same...


As of lunchtime, the rain seems to be over for a little bit today.

But the rain we did get is a big downer for me and my plans for the day, and the radars predict more coming.

I was going to head to the Calloway County at St. Mary softball game this afternoon. While likely not a region showdown, the game had promises of being close since both teams played earlier in the season with Calloway coming out with an 8-6 win. But now with the rain and the cruddy weather, fields are going to be too wet for play.

So I’ve been left to handle other responsibilities around the office. I’m working ahead on sports previews and using the telephone to conduct interviews instead of face-to-face. I’m glued to my chair and forced into staring at my computer screen all day when I could be out filling my lungs with spring air.

I’ve worked in the office basically for two weeks now, and I am ready to get back out to games. I’m like a caged animal who is locked in at The Paducah Sun, baring my teeth and scratching at the door. Although baseball and softball are in full swing, we in the sports department are sitting in between seasons, trying to round up information on baseball, softball, tennis, golf, and track and field before we get back out to the events.

It also stinks because when we have no games at night to cover, we nocturnal-leaning sports writers have to work dayside. That means I get up before the early hour of 9 a.m. to try and get to work before 11 a.m.

I’ll just sit at my desk, wait for my phone calls and hope for better weather this weekend.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Hair today, gone tomorrow?


The buzzword in the NFL is hair — long hair, copious amounts of bushy thatch — and whether it should be allowed in the league.

Herm Edwards, the Kansas City Chiefs’ head coach, leads the way in suggesting that long hair on NFL football players either be cut or somehow tucked away from the names plastered on the back of their jerseys.

The proposal will be reviewed in May at the next NFL owner’s meeting, after hearing feedback from the players. See the full story here at espn.com http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=3323895

Hair has nothing to do with X’s and O’s, first downs or spying. But it does have to do with taste and dress code, according to Edwards.

For me, it seems unsafe and just gross. Watching it on high definition TV just magnifies the effeminate locks.

Imagine running around on a field with Troy Polamalu (pictured, No. 43), and getting your hand tangled in his unruly mass. Polamalu receives instant whiplash or paralysis in my eyes, similar consequences from grabbing the face mask of a player.

Not to mention that hair on anybody else’s head other than mine kind of gives me the willies. Especially long man-hair.

So the proposal is out there.

I don’t think the NFL can mandate a league-wide hair cut, nor should it. While not in the NFL, half of Hawaii’s lineup would send a barber into retirement if the NCAA adopted the same scheme. But putting your ponytail into a bun can’t be that troublesome. Girls do it all the time.

To me, it wouldn’t be any different than issuing school uniforms or dictating that TV reporters be freakishly well-groomed.

Is it a big deal, or not? What do you think?