Monday, October 17, 2011

We are Joplin; We are Eagles; We are strong

There are many things I love about sports; but what I love most of all is that sports, which many people deem “unimportant” in the grand scheme of life, have the ability to lift individuals, teams, cities and even countries, out of a proverbial hole. One such team is the Joplin High School Eagles.

On May 22, the town of Joplin, Mo., was brought to its knees by an EF5 tornado. It ripped apart homes, businesses and schools; one-third of the town was obliterated, and 162 lives were lost. How do you return to any sort of semblance of normalcy after such a tragedy? If you are the Joplin High School athletic director, you go to work ensuring that sports will go on for the students; if you are a high school football player, after a summer of rebuilding your life, you lace up your cleats for summer sessions.

By the time summer camps began for the fall season, most of the high school athletes said that everything they had done in the last three months was hurricane-related – either trying to rebuild their own homes, find new homes, or help others who lost their homes. Most people in the town thought there wouldn’t be a football season, but the Joplin High players and coaches wouldn’t let that happen. 

“Just being together is a thing that makes us feel at home… and that’s one thing that gets us through it,” junior linebacker Austin Barnett said to ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” 

For one player who lost almost everything that day, being with his team has brought him some peace in the face of tragedy. 

Quinton Anderson lost both of his parents in the tornado and was himself seriously injured; he was dug out of the rubble on the evening of May 22, and induced into a coma. He fractured his skull, shattered his orbital bone and spine, and he needed skin grafts on both legs. For most of the team, the first time they saw him was when he walked into the parent-team meeting on Aug. 7. 

“I knew I couldn’t play,” he said, “but it was nice to know I had my family back at home in the football team.”

Despite coming to Joplin just three months before the tornado hit, the head football coach has been a true leader for this team during a season in which everyone would understand if they just laid down and accepted defeat. 

“When you get knocked down in life, it comes down to a simple decision: lay down and feel sorry for yourselves or get up and fight,” head coach Chris Shields said to his team before their first game of the 2011 season. “I have no reservations about what this team will do in the face of adversity. What you’ve done and the things that you’ve gone through – there is nothing that can happen on the football field that we can’t overcome if we stay together.”

Before that first game, junior LB/RB Adam St. Peter told ESPN that the team was aware that many of the people who would be in the crowd were coming to see how the team represented them.

That’s what’s driving me mostly, I feel like that’s what I need to do for all of these people whose lives were dramatically altered – just make them proud to be from Joplin,” St. Peter said.
As a town continues to rebuild, the Joplin High sports teams do the same. They’ve lost athletes, some in the tornado and some in the aftermath who had to leave town, but those who remain continue to do what they did before the tornado ever touched down – they hit the fields wearing their Joplin jerseys. These athletes are forever changed, but on the field, they are able to be normal teenagers.

In the town of Joplin, Mo., football has the power to pick people up and return them to life. 

Note: the quotes from this article are from ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NBA should be wary of lockout consequences

On Monday, the NBA cancelled the first two weeks of the NBA season. Color me shocked – I thought they would cancel a lot more games after two days of negotiations failed to bridge the “significant” gap between the players and owners.

Is everyone as sick of these league lockouts as I am? Are we really going to have to go through this every few years in every league? This year alone started with the potential NFL lockout, now the NBA… and this one isn’t going away any time soon - and I do expect more cancellations.

Why am I being so pessimistic? Because right now the two sides won’t budge, and a gap can’t be bridged if neither side will compromise. In fact, the only way to come to an agreement is if both sides accept now, rather than later, that they will each have to make some compromises – that’s how negotiations work.

What should terrify owners is the hole they will have to dig out of with this lockout, especially is the entire season is cancelled. Last season was the best in the history of the NBA in terms of revenues and TV ratings and with the economy the way it is, a prolonged lockout will have dire consequences. It took some time for the NBA to recover from the 1998 lockout, and that was when the economy was in a much better place. This time around, it will likely take a lot longer for the league to recuperate.

As it stands, the league – players and owners alike – is showing it doesn’t really care about the fans. The owners want us to believe that if they get what they want, it will improve the balance of the league – as if the “have” owners care about the “have nots.” Do you think Los Angeles Lakers care that the Charlotte Bobcats can’t compete with them? Come on, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

The NBA could learn something from the NFL – and I know they are sick of hearing that. For starters, the NFL had it right when they came to a deal before any games were cancelled. Secondly – and probably more importantly in the long run – the NFL achieves parity with their salary cap. The players and owners all make their money – and a lot of it – yet small markets teams manage to succeed. Look the Green Bay Packers, last year’s Super Bowl Champions – they are the smallest market professional team in the U.S.

Some NBA teams report that they are not turning a profit. NFL teams make money, and the league doesn’t have guaranteed contracts. Do you think that’s just a coincidence? The excessive guaranteed contracts that NBA owners give players – make no mistake, the owners are largely at fault for these – are killing the league. Teams stuck with gigantic contracts for players who are barely on the court can’t rebuild, and the cycle is never ending.

Should fans side with the NBA players who believe they deserve millions to play a game, or the owners who have enough money to pay them? It’s hard to decide –millionaires (players) or billionaires (owners)? I’m taking the easy way out: I’m on the side of the fan who spends an inordinate amount of hard-earned money and time to be entertained, and who doesn’t need to be reminded that what these millionaires “deserve.”

The NFL is the most popular league in America; the NBA wants to be, but if they continue to cancel games and ignore the fans, they’ll never recover from this lockout.

That being said, a lockout-shortened season can only help my aging Celtics, so this could be a good thing for Boston fans – always looking for the silver lining!