Monday, February 10, 2014

Not So Smart

TigerBlog can't figure out what makes one person a better ski jumper than another person, other than the aerodynamic makeup of one's body.

They all sit on the same little bench. They all go down the same hill and fly off at the same angle. Where's the athleticism?

To TB, this falls under the heading of "daredevil," not "sport." Brave, fearless daredevils to be sure. Just not athletes.

Don't get TB wrong. He loves the ski jumping. It's one of his favorite parts of the Winter Olympics. And there is no way that TB would ever be able to do it. No chance. No way. The word "terrifying" doesn't do it justice.

Back in 1976, TB was in Oslo for a summer vacation when he visited the Holmenkollen ski jump, and it's dizzying just to look out from the top, let alone actually put on skis and head down. The people who willingly fly off the hill are completely fearless.

It reminds TB of his college friend Paul, who once went bungee jumping and had this actual conversation with TB about the experience:
TB: "Was it scary?"
Paul: "Did you ever go up to the top of a really high bridge?"
TB: "Yes."
Paul: "Did you ever look over the side and see how far down it was?"
TB: "Yes."
Paul: "Did you ever jump off?"

TB is a little let down by the Olympics so far. It's a little too made-for-TV.

The fact that the U.S. won the gold in both slopestyles sort of proves TB's point that those events - no matter how cool they are - were added by NBC to up the American medal count. And the team figure skating was created simply to add more figure skating, which always is ratings gold.

Plus, some of the color analysts are a tad, uh, excitable. TB isn't sure if they're doing these events live or are adding commentary after the fact on tape, but can they stop screaming, especially at the midway point of a cross country ski race?

Another fascinating thing about the Olympics is how much it's being ignored by ESPN. TB would think ESPN would go out of its way to get the winners out there, in an effort to get people not to want to watch it in primetime on tape delay, as Sochi is nine hours ahead of the Eastern time zone of the United States.

Mostly ESPN hasn't played the Games up at all.

This weekend, the network was handed two stories in college athletics that made for an easy diversion from the Olympics. TB will look at one of these stories today and the other tomorrow, especially in the context of the way they could possibly play out at Princeton.

Tomorrow TB will take about Missouri defensive end Michael Sam, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, who announced yesterday that he is gay.

Today TB will talk about Marcus Smart and how he shoved a fan during Oklahoma State's basketball game at Texas Tech Saturday night.

A long time ago, there was a pretty good high school baseball pitcher from the next town over from Princeton whose name was Scott Lord. Any time he won a game, the local papers would have a headline that played off his last name, like "Praise the Lord" or "Lord Saves the Day" or things like that.

TB thought about that when he started to see the Marcus Smart headlines, which included "Not So Smart" and "That Was Dumb" and others.

If you don't know who Marcus Smart is, he's one of the top players in college basketball and presumably one of the top players in the coming NBA draft, which could be as deep as any draft ever. Smart's Cowboys were trailing Texas Tech by two late in the game when Tech forced a turnover. Smart had to foul, and he ended up crashing into some people under the basket.

A second later, Smart ends up shoving one of the Texas Tech fans, who clearly had said something to him. Smart was given a technical foul but not ejected, and he was suspended by the Big 12 yesterday for three games.

Smart has a reputation for being a bit of a hothead, which doesn't help his situation.

The fan in question was identified as a Jeff Orr, an air traffic controller and Texas Tech superfan. Smart claimed that Orr made a racial slur; Orr and Texas Tech said that he didn't make any such comment, just that he called Smart a "piece of crap."

The most amazing part of all this to TB is that Texas Tech released a statement - that was the No. 1 story on its website - from Orr. Is this the responsibility of the athletic department?

Okay, let's start at the beginning. Calling someone a "piece of crap" at a game isn't exactly nice, but in 2014 it's pretty tame.

Also, even if Orr had dropped the N-word in there 10 times, it still doesn't make it in any way okay for Smart to shove him. He simply cannot touch a fan at a game.

What Smart should have done - the "smart" thing, as it were - would have been to immediately tell the officials, his coach or game officials that a fan had made a racial slur, if in fact Orr had. Either way, he just has to walk away from Orr.

TB gets that it's not always easy for college athletes to do that. Especially on the road in the final seconds, as the game has just essentially slipped away.

But it doesn't matter. Every athlete has to have enough self-control and poise to walk away. As a result, Smart is 100% culpable, and the punishment is a pretty fair one.

And what about Orr? Maybe he's a bit over the top in his demeanor as a fan. Maybe. Maybe not. TB finds him pretty much par for the course these days. Actually, "piece of crap" is a little below par.

You want to get rid of Jeff Orr? Fine. Get rid of every fan at every venue who says something to a player on another team. Here's where you can start - in the student section at Duke.

Orr didn't curse. He didn't use a slur. There's video and audio to support his claim.

This issue is an important one to TB.

He wants Princeton to be a place known for being classy, from the way its coaches and athletes carry themselves to the way the fans behave and to the way the event staff handles instances when fan behavior becomes an issue.

At the same time, TB wants Princeton to be a tough place to play. Loud, enthusiastic fans - especially students - can be a big part of making it tough for opponents to get comfortable.

So the question then becomes what's acceptable and what isn't. Is it okay for a Princeton fan to call an opponent a "piece of crap?" Is it okay for a Princeton fan to get the game program, see the first name of the opposing players and taunt them?

Does not cursing or using language that is generally recognized as offensive - racial, sexual, religious, orientation - mean that anything goes? Can you insult the opposing team's goalie's mother, as long as you don't do it using the above-mentioned language?

It's an especially tough question here because so many of the fans who attend games here are families with little kids. If they are offended by what they see and hear, they won't come back.

And really, what can an athletic department do? If Princeton tells the students not to do something, they're likely to do it. If a 50-something fan calls an opponent a "piece of crap," what can the department do to prevent that from happening?

TB hates situations where degrees of acceptable are debated. It's okay to say "piece of crap" but not piece of something else?

There's a fine line between creating a tough atmosphere and being classless. TB knows it when he sees it.

And to be honest, it's been crossed more than once here. The department does what it can to deal with those situations, but it's can be really, really tough to address.

None of that really matters though.

No athlete can ever touch a fan.

End of story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

TB, you cynically suspect that NBC is behind the introduction of brand new television-friendly sports at the winter Olympic games. Your cynicism is well-founded, but does not go far enough.

The Olympic "movement" is, ultimately, a business -- a multi-billionaire dollar franchise which depends more than anything else upon the sale of global television rights. NBC does not have to encourage the Olympic organizers to add television-friendly sports and events. The International Olympic Committee needs television viewers, just as any business needs paying customers.