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Patching Up Some Loose Ends

The Fairly Detached Observers

Jun. 24, 2009
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Astute sports commentary can get tiring, and the Observers felt the need to recharge. So this week Artie is up in the Northwoods and Frank is back East for a family wedding and other fun. But they stockpiled some dialogue so readers wouldn’t have to go blather-less.

Frank: The Packers are “exploring the possibility” of putting corporate sponsor logos on their practice jerseys. The NFL in its righteous purity will not allow such things on game jerseys.

Artie: Yet.

Frank: Indeed. My first question is, who’s gonna see the patches on practice jerseys? NFL coaches treat practices like they’re North Korean missile tests. So what’s the economic value for sponsors?

Artie: But you know the slippery slope starts here. In 10 years the players will look like NASCAR drivers, patched from helmet to cleats.

Frank: The WNBA is already on the slope. At least two teams, the Phoenix Mercury and Los Angeles Sparks, have company names on their game shirts instead of the team nicknames.

Artie: Hell, NFL teams already have corporate logos at their press conferences. You see “Associated Bank” all over the place behind Mike McCarthy.

Frank: And why not? Why pretend this is something other than a moneymaking operation? All the nostalgia for things like Ebbets Field—hey, look at the photos, the outfield wall was nothing but signage. Besides, all the international soccer teams—and several in America’s own MLS—have nothing but corporate images on their uniforms.

Artie: With NASCAR it’s even part of their language. The drivers don’t refer to “my car” or even “our car,” but rather “the Lowe’s 48 car” or “the DuPont 24 car.” It’s part of their training.

Frank: They probably get docked by their teams if they slip up and imply that they might have won without all the decals on their cars.

Artie: Maybe the NFL will drop all pretense. Wisconsin, get ready to cheer for the Green Bay Associated Bankers!

Frank: Teams in Japanese baseball have always been known by corporate names. My favorite is the Nippon Ham Fighters. It took years for me to realize the name meant the team was fighting for the honor of the Nippon Ham company. I thought it had something to do with a warrior tradition of battling cured meat.

Artie: Like John Belushi, whacking away as Samurai Deli Slicer.

Frank: In a way, the Packers have the same story as the Fighters. They began with funding by a meat-packing company, and on the team’s Web site it says that in their first season as NFL members, 1921, the uniforms said “Acme Packers.”

Artie: So corporate shilling isn’t revolutionary, it’s downright traditional! Time for the Packers to go full circle, drop Associated Bank and make a deal that takes ‘em back to their roots.

Frank: I think I see where you’re going.

Artie: Exactly. The Usinger’s Brat Packers!

Ethical Air Balls

Frank: Gee, is anyone surprised that the Memphis basketball program might get hammered by the NCAA?

Artie: Supposedly, a player had an SAT exam taken for him by an academic ringer. The NCAA says the player was with the Tigers only in 2007-’08, and that means it’s Derrick Rose, who went “one and done” and struck it rich with the Chicago Bulls.

Frank: Memphis had a hearing with the NCAA and will find out in a few weeks if it loses 38 wins and national runner-up status from ’08.

Artie: They had a pep rally as the president went off to state his case.

Frank: “Save our tainted program, Mr. President!” Beautiful.

Artie: Coach John Calipari got out of Memphis to join Kentucky just ahead of this scandal. Calipari knows something about NCAA penalties. After his 1995-’96 season at Massachusetts, it turned out Marcus Camby was getting money and gifts from agents, and UMass was stripped of 35 wins and its Final Four appearance.

Frank: Calipari was cleared of knowing anything specific about Camby, and chances are he’ll be cleared with regard to Rose. But do you suppose there were times at UMass where he saw Camby wearing a lot of bling and said, “I wonder…”

Artie: You know that in three or four years something will crop up at Kentucky. Things just happen with that guy.

Frank: Right on the heels of Memphis comes a scandal involving USC coach Tim Floyd and O.J. Mayo, now of the Memphis Grizzlies. Coincidental that Mayo was “one and done,” too? Hmm… If a coach is willing to sign a player knowing he’ll probably be gone in a year, he might think the player is worth just about anything to get.

Artie: Floyd allegedly handed $1,000 to someone who helped “deliver” Mayo. I heard Mike Krzyzewski at Duke wanted no part of recruiting Mayo because there were too many ethical question marks.

Frank: Floyd resigned last week, and I love the language he used—”I can no longer give my full enthusiasm” to the job.

Artie: Yeah, he didn’t have full enthusiasm for getting his ass fired.

Frank: USC, meanwhile, seems enthusiastic about cooperating with the NCAA.

Artie: I wonder if the school is trying to cut a deal. The football program is also under investigation from the Reggie Bush days, and football is the real moneymaker. So USC may be saying, “Do whatever you want with hoops, but please go easy on football.” And the NCAA knows USC football is a total cash cow for them.

Frank: Bigger even than Alabama, which just went on probation and lost 21 wins because players got free textbooks and handed them over to friends.

Artie: Maybe so the friends could take tests for them, ain’a?

Frank: All of this is evidence of what we’ve said before. The top Division I programs are semi-pro operations in business for themselves, and the universities are on board for the financial ride.

Nice Guys Finish First

Frank: I want to comment on a sports milestone—Roger Federer’s victory in the French Open.

Artie: Tennis, huh? You won’t be surprised that I missed it.

Frank: I didn’t see the match either, but I caught the awards ceremony. Federer now has won all of the Grand Slam titles and matched Pete Sampras with 14 majors. Now begins the debate on whether Federer is the greatest player ever.

Artie: Can’t say it matters to me.

Frank: Me either, but I was struck by a couple of things watching the ceremony.

First, if there was a camera small enough to go inside someone’s tear ducts, NBC would have used it. They knew Federer would get emotional and they zoomed in until Federer’s eyes almost filled the screen.

Artie: So there’s crying in tennis, but not baseball?

Frank: The main thing for me was how happy everyone was for Federer.

The crowd, the losing finalist, Robin Soderling, special guest Andre Agassi and even John McEnroe in his gruff way. Federer seems to be a nice guy and a good sport. Even in his super-tough finals against Rafael Nadal, they always seem to genuinely appreciate each other.

It’s good to see that you can be successful in sports without snarling and scowling all the time.

Artie: In other words, the opposite of McEnroe.

Frank: Anyway, a few hours later I saw another nice guy honored, this time at a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concert. Andreas Delfs is leaving after 12 years as music director, and the orchestra gave him a tribute. It was evident that he’s well liked. I know this doesn’t qualify as athletics…

Artie: I think the symphony would be better if they had vendors in the aisles so I could get an ice-cold bottled beer with my Beethoven.

Frank: But in his remarks Delfs said something interesting about musicians— and, I think, athletes. He told the audience, “When musicians feel your support and appreciation, we play better. It’s as simple as that.” 

Artie: So we should yell, “Let’s go, oboe!” during concerts?

Frank: I think not. But it’s a reminder that any profession involving physical skill also involves the variables of human nature. Part of “home field advantage” is simply feeling the good vibes and confidence of your fans. Nothing is automatic, but the better you feel, the better you’re likely to perform.

Artie: Readers, take heed!

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