Ryan Rants: Ronda Rousey

Think about ever great fall from grace that you have ever seen in sports. A few that come to mind are Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong, O.J. Simpson and Michael Vick. And the thing that each of those falls had in common was that the infamous incidents which led to each respective athlete’s ‘demise’ occurred off of the playing field in some capacity.

Tiger Woods had a cheating scandal. O.J. had a double murder trial. Michael Vick had a dogfighting ring. Lance Armstrong got busted for steroid usage. Never has there ever been a fall from grace as dramatic as these that did not include ‘outside the lines’ influences as the primary source of demise.

At least not until now.

It has taken all of 6 minutes and 47 seconds for Ronda Rousey to transform from the most dominant athlete in the world to a washed up has-been; and the primary factors for her fall from grace did not occur outside the lines.

In just two fights – a second round knockout to Holly Holm that took 5 minutes, 59 seconds and a first round knockout to Amanda Nunes that took 48 seconds – the fighter that Joe Rogan once called, “a once ever in human history fighter” is now done. No, she hasn’t officially retired yet, but Ronda Rousey is done.

What I mean by that is that, no matter what she does from here forward, the image of Ronda Rousey has been forever shattered and is done. The unbreakable, unstoppable, “once ever” woman that transcended fighting and had a legitimate case for greatest athlete of all time is done. What we have now is a shell of that woman who simply wants to be left alone.

Before I really get into this article, I just want to put this warning out there.

I respect Ronda Rousey. I respect all of the work that it takes to reach such a high level. I respect how she has changed the fight game forever and all of the women she has impacted. However, I do not like Ronda Rousey, and that will very clearly shine through here. So if you’re here to read a positive view of Ronda, look elsewhere.

I want to start this by staying within the octagon, because that is something that I can at least somewhat factually analyze without too much speculation and subjectivity.

Within the octagon, Rousey has always had significant holes in her game. Her biggest calling card has always been her Olympic level judo game. She used her excellence in the clinch and thunderous takedowns to physically dominate opponents, take them to the ground, and transition into her patented arm bar. Her gameplay was foolproof through 12 fights and nobody had even come remotely close to beating her.

Then, she got exposed.

She tried to strike with three-weight-class world boxing champion Holly Holm and to say it didn’t go well is a vast understatement. Rousey got absolutely destroyed, needing plastic surgery after the fight to keep herself recognizable. And on Friday night, in her grand return fight against Amanda Nunes at UFC 207, Rousey got thoroughly mauled again.

If we’re being completely honest here, Ronda Rousey is not a good fighter. She is worse than poor on the feet and does not have a strong jiu-jitsu game. As I said earlier, her one calling card has always been an extremely high level judo game, which she uses to take an opponent down and transition into her one submission. Honestly, it’s amazing that it took 12 fights for someone to figure out how to beat Ronda Rousey.

Rousey’s game is comparable to that of a baseball player who’s only skill is stealing bases. Once they get on the base paths, they are extremely dominant and dangerous, but combating that skill is simple; just don’t let that player get on base. Easier said than done, but still simple. 

As Holly Holm showed last November, if you stuff Ronda Rousey’s initial takedown, she is useless and can be easily picked apart. In both the fight against Holm and Amanda Nunes, Rousey looked like an underprepared and untrained athlete attempting to get in the cage with seasoned strikers.

After her initial run of dominance, the fight game caught up with Ronda Rousey. She had no answer and was unable to adapt or adjust her game to match up with the game that had caught up with her. Great fighters make adjustments, and Ronda simply continued to stubbornly work her past game plan, and she paid the price for it.

One dimensional and too stubborn to make adjustments, Ronda Rousey was never a truly great fighter. After 14 fights, we now realize that.

Now, I’ve made my case why Rousey isn’t a good fighter, but I’m gonna take it one step further here. Ronda Rousey is not a great athlete.

Whoah whoah whoah, hold on a second. How can I say that an Olympic bronze medalist who dominated women’s MMA for over 4 years isn’t a great athlete? I can say it because all truly great athletes know how to deal with adversity.

Ronda Rousey let one loss break her.

If I’m supposed to believe everything that I’ve ever heard from people trying to motivate me, how you deal with success is not what makes you great; it’s how you deal with failure that separates the average from the great. And when Ronda Rousey faced the greatest failure of her entire life, she let it break her in humiliating fashion.

She spent a year away from fighting, cooped up in Idaho with just her boyfriend, Travis Browne, there to keep her company. She avoided all media except for a hefty paycheck from Ellen DeGeneres and talked about how she had contemplated suicide after her loss to Holly Holm.

Suicide?! Are you kidding me?! Please, tell me any other great athletes that have admitted to contemplating suicide following a big loss. Can’t think of any? It’s because every truly great athlete that has ever lived knows how to deal with failure. Ronda Rousey chose to sit and pout in Idaho for nearly a full year before deciding to make a comeback.

Now, the story of Ronda Rousey could be far from over. She could prove all of my words wrong and humble herself by coming back to the UFC, accepting a non-title fight against an opponent of far less significant stature, and try to pick up the pieces of her career. This could be just the beginning of a comeback story.

But she won’t.

Instead, Ronda Rousey will choose to quit. She’ll let two failures define her and she will quit mixed martial arts.

Now, I can understand quitting because you don’t have anything left to give. Miesha Tate quit the sport because she said she, “doesn’t care enough anymore.” That’s completely understandable. But, if I’m supposed to believe everything that I hear, Ronda Rousey is going to quit martial arts because she cares too much.

In a statement released by Rousey’s mother following Amanda Nunes’ destructive performance at UFC 207, the general public who criticizes Ronda Rousey for not being able to shrug off a defeat, “doesn’t understand that what made Ronda so successful is that she cares DEEPLY about winning to an extent that I don’t believe the average person can wrap his/her head around.”

My goodness, there’s a lot to unpack about that statement.

Firstly, as an “average person” myself, I believe I can speak on behalf of the people that Ronda’s dear mother is belittling in this statement. Yes, we get it, your daughter cares about her sport. Yes, we also understand that losing is hard – everyone has lost and knows the feeling. Yes, I can understand that I, an “average person” may not be able to understand just how deeply Ronda cares about mixed martial arts. But really? Am I really supposed to believe this?

Let’s look at some examples.

On the very same UFC 207 card, Dominick Cruz lost his bantamweight title to Cody Garbrandt in a hard fought, 5 round decision. This was Cruz’s first MMA loss in nearly 10 years. Afterwords, he congratulated Garbrandt, was gracious with the media, and vowed to come back stronger. The defining quote from Cruz’s sparkling press conference – seriously, go watch it, it’s incredible – was this: “This wasn’t a tough loss. Loss is part of life. If you don’t have loss, you don’t grow. This wasn’t tough, this was life.”

Now, are you gonna tell me that Dominick Cruz enjoys losing? Am I supposed to believe that anyone who can, “shrug off a loss” enjoys losing and can’t “wrap their head around” the extent to which a professional athlete cares about his profession?

Give me a break.

Let’s take another fighter for example; Jose Aldo.

In December of 2015, Aldo suffered the ultimate humiliation at the hands of Conor McGregor. For months leading up to the fight, McGregor belittled and taunted Jose to the point where Aldo seemed legitimately infuriated, yet Aldo remained quiet and insisted that he would let his fighting do the talking.

Then, on fight night, McGregor knocked him out in 13 seconds, took Aldo’s featherweight belt, and handed Jose his first loss in over 10 years.

Also was clearly devastated. He went into hiding for several months, yet collected himself and vowed revenge. He didn’t hide away and wallow in his sadness, avoiding all media. He sought out another fight to prove his greatness and swore that he would get his retribution someday.

Aldo’s comeback culminated with a convincing win over Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 to reclaim his featherweight belt, and while he continues to wait for his next chance at McGregor, Aldo has reminded the world of his greatness and proved that one night in December of 2015 was just an outlier.

But, if I’m supposed to believe Ronda Rousey’s mother, those two men’s ability to not be so totally and completely broken by their losses equates to them not caring about mixed martial arts to the extent of Ronda Rousey, and I just plain refuse to believe that. 

Ronda Rousey never won with grace, and she doesn’t lose with grace either.

Which extends into my last and final point, the fact that Ronda Rousey is no longer a role model that I want my future daughters to look up to.

What she has done for women’s MMA and women all over the world is undeniable. She broke barriers, stereotypes, and paved a way for women in combat sports; and I barely even scratched the surface of her global impact. In that right, her legacy is secure.

However, role models that I want my future daughters looking up to know how to deal with and fight through failure. The women in this world with true strength and true grit have been knocked down one million times and have gotten up one million and one times.

Ronda Rousey has been knocked down twice now, and instead of getting up, she’s curled up in a ball and told us to leave her alone.

Is that really the model we want our daughters looking up to? “Hey kids, remember that the most effective method of dealing with failure is to seclude yourself from society, seek sympathy and tell everyone to leave you alone so you can wallow in your sadness.”

It’s a powerful and poignant example of how not to deal with failure.

And, one last thing. Yes, I’m a clueless member of the media who is criticizing an athlete with a job much tougher than I could ever dream of, and I know that this will simply infuriate LeBron James and Jon Jones and Kobe Bryant, among all of the other athletes who can empathize with Ronda and encourage her to keep fighting and get back up.

But that’s what Ronda gets when she hides from the media. We get to make up our own storylines and narratives.

The queen is dead, and she’s not rising.

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Ryan Rants: Ronda Rousey

Colin Kaepernick Deserves Your Sympathy

At the start of this year, if you had told me that Colin Kaepernick would be relevant again by the end of August, I would have figured that the man had gotten his mojo back and won a starting job in San Francisco. Mostly an NFL afterthought/has-been over the course of the past year or so, Kaepernick is not only relevant again, he has just become the most important athlete in the world.

In case you haven’t heard about the incident yet and were just wondering why in the world I would say such a thing about Colin Kaepernick, here’s a cliff notes version.

Last Saturday, before a home preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, the NFL was having their traditional national anthem festivities. Big flag unveiled on the field, military personnel, the whole 9 yards that they do before every game – the organization actually collects checks from the U.S. Army to do such things. Everyone rose to honor the stars and stripes, except one man.

Kaepernick purposefully chose to stay seated on the bench.

In all my years of attending live sporting events, never have I ever seen a player not stand for the national anthem. It’s just not something that you would normally think to do. Protests are usually reserved for wearing a symbolic shirt during warm-ups – like the LA Clippers did last year – making a symbolic gesture – like the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ gesture that 5 Rams players made when making their entrance from the tunnel last year – or posting something on social media – like everyone does.

By not standing for the national anthem, Kaepernick has taken an often protested topic, and thrust it directly into the spotlight in a not subtle way. And that, right there, is why this is so important.

Everyone is talking about this. From local sports outlets and podcasts to CNN, Kaepernick’s actions have incited widespread opinion and attention from literally anywhere you can think of. If you are an American, and you have seen what he did, you have an opinion on it. Finally, the issues that this country so desperately needs to address are thrust into the limelight in a way that doesn’t involve violence.

There are so many sides and questions about Kaepernick’s protest, though, and I’m just going to try and knock them all out one by one.

First off, the fact that Colin Kaepernick is, well, Colin Kaepernick plays a vital role in this. While people are talking about Kaep’s protest, most of everything I’ve heard has been extremely negative – Saturday on Twitter was possibly one of the most depressing Twitter days ever. But, ask yourself this, if Aaron Rodgers had made this same protest, would we be viewing it in a more positive light? Or at least attempting to sympathize with him more?

Kaepernick’s likability and relevance play a role here. The fact that he is all but certainly on his way out of the NFL has led anonymous GM’s to comment things such as, “I wouldn’t want him anywhere near my team. He’s a traitor.” And the fact that when Kaepernick was relevant he alienated himself and was often perceived as a selfish diva doesn’t help either.

When irrelevant people do relevant things, those relevant things become somewhat squandered and crushed under the weight of irrelevancy. Instead of lauding Kaepernick’s bravery or even remotely attempting to sympathize with his cause, we look at his stupidity, disrespect and view him as a “traitor.”

If LeBron intentionally sat for the national anthem, millions would be lauding him, publicly praising his courage, calling him a hero, all that jazz. But, LeBron didn’t sit for the anthem, and he never will.

But Colin Kaepernick did, and I’m going to put my neck out on the line here by saying that his protest was courageous and needs to be sympathized with.

In a brilliant piece posted on the MMQB, Robert Klemko looked at Kaepernick’s upbringing to go inside the reasoning of how this protest came about. To summarize, Colin was raised by two white parents in a very white area of Northern California; but he was not raised to believe he was white. The Kaepernicks raised their son as a black man, and as a black man in America, Colin Kaepernick has faced all of the injustices that are simply ingrained in our society and glossed over as non-issues.

He’s had enough, and we should all feel the same. Pay attention to Colin Kaepernick’s protest and take a stand of your own. If you simply dismiss it as just another black man crying out for special treatment, you are contributing to the problem we need to solve.

I have never not stood up for the national anthem, and I believe that when times are hardest, the national anthem simply needs to be sung louder and prouder than before. Not to drown out the problems and pretend they aren’t there, but to yell in the face of the error and show that we are stronger and will not back down.

I also believe in the principles that the American flag stands for, and will always respect those principles in any way that I can. But, at the same time, as a straight white male, I haven’t had to face a lick of oppression in my entire life. It might as well be nonexistent to me. So I have no reason to believe that America isn’t perfect the way it is right now.

Colin Kaepernick – along with any black, LGBT person, or woman – does, and Kaepernick stands up for all of them by not standing. He stands up for all of them by not blindly accepting a perfect America, because America isn’t perfect, and everyone needs to recognize that and work together to solve that problem.

This is true activism, taking a huge risk for a cause you believe in; something Kaepernick touched on when he told NFL Network’s Steve Wyche, “I have to stand up for people that are oppressed…If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I took up for what is right.”

You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick, most people don’t, but you must sympathize with him. Everyone has a cause they believe in, a cause that many people disagree with, a cause that they would potentially put themselves out on the line for. Kaepernick is a black man in America who has seen enough violence and heard enough politicians undermining minorities as helpless that he felt strongly enough to protest in such a way that he knew would get the country’s attention.

And, the beauty of his protest was exactly what it was. Kaepernick staying seated during the national anthem hurts literally nobody; not a single person was harmed by what he did. Yet everyone is talking about it and everyone is addressing the issue at hand. That is beautiful, and that is vital.

Too often, protests are either too simple, or too violent to actually accomplish any good. Kaepernick fought back against both of those preconceived notions, and in doing so, has people talking. Is his career on the line? Yes. Is his life potentially on the line? From what I’ve seen on Twitter, yes. But that’s what it takes to get a point across in today’s day and age, and Kaepernick deserves to be applauded for his courage.

The last thing I want to bring up is a point that my dad made while we were talking over dinner the other night. He felt that Kaepernick’s protest not only disrespected the American flag, but also all of the people who had put him in such a position of power to be able to have his protest reach so many people. He disagreed with the protest because he believed it was an abuse of power to get out an opinion.

To me, Kaepernick’s stature makes this protest all the more effective. As I mentioned earlier, maybe you’ve seen the guy next to you in the stands or some other guy in the stands not stand for the national anthem, but you probably haven’t thought anything of it other than, “wow, what an idiot.” The fact that this is Colin Kaepernick making this statement, he of significant fame for being an NFL quarterback of one of the most recognizable franchises in the world, puts this in the rarified air of protests.

This is a legitimately large figure taking an authentic stand and literally putting everything on the line; something we haven’t seen since the days when Muhammad Ali, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jim Brown would hold press conferences to address social injustices. As I mentioned earlier, no figure with any legitimate stature has really been willing to put their neck out on the line to address America’s inherent ‘ism’ and ‘phobia’ problem – racism, sexism, anti-semitism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.

This protest, however seemingly small in stature it may be, is a pivotal turning point for our current America. We can either brush it off as just another black guy crying foul, or we can seriously address it and make some change. We’ve had plenty of other opportunities, but will this finally be the one?

In a presidential election that is as racially charged as any in the history of ever – and that includes 2 with a black guy running for president, mind you – all candidates will be asked about this. NFL players will be asked about this; from Cam Newton to Bill Belichick, and front office executives too. This issue expands far beyond just an ‘on his way out the door’ NFL quarterback deciding not to stand for the national anthem and extends into the very fabric that our society is currently made up from.

These issues can’t be ignored any longer, so let this be a turning point and not just another empty protest falling on deaf ears. This isn’t a black or white issue, and it isn’t just an NFL issue, it’s a people issue.

Let it be your issue too.

Thanks for reading.

-Ryan

Colin Kaepernick Deserves Your Sympathy

Rajon Rondo and the NBA’s Cultural Problem

Hello, it’s me, how are you? It’s been a whole 26 days since your eyes and my writing have been together. But wait no longer, my loyal reader, for I have returned. And what has drawn me out of my writing slumber? The cultural issues of basketball.

About 2 weeks ago, on December 3rd, the Boston Celtics defeated the Sacramento Kings 114-97. Within that game was the storyline of Kings’ guard Rajon Rondo returning to Boston, the city where he played his first 8 NBA seasons.

Without knowing any other background, one can reasonably infer that Rondo’s emotions would be quite high. And one would be spot on in conjecturing such, as Rondo was given a technical foul by referee Bill Kennedy.

Rondo then proceeded to get right in Kennedy’s face and presumably say some not so nice things. Kennedy then ejected Rondo, Rondo left the court, and that was that. So why am I devoting an article to this? Because what Rondo said to Kennedy reflects a much bigger problem in the NBA that is deeply rooted in the overall culture of basketball and really needs to be changed.

Kennedy publicly announced, just a few days ago, that he is gay, effectively becoming the first referee in any of the 4 primary North American professional sports to come out as publicly gay. And while the sports world applauded and came together surrounding Kennedy, as they tend to do nowadays, the news took a horrific turn.

Rondo was suspended 1 game by NBA commissioner Adam Silver for making “homophobic remarks” towards Kennedy. I was genuinely disgusted.

Rajon Rondo - Bill Kennedy
Photo by Rich Pedroncelli for AP

Rondo has always been known as a complicated personality, a guy who is “too smart for his own good” according to Fox Sports’ Kristine Leahy. But there are a lot of things wrong with what happened here.

First off, Rondo could not be more out of line here. He has denied that he knew Kennedy was actually gay, but either way, using the word that I’m presuming he used to insult someone is just not okay in any circumstance. Whether or not that was a heat of the moment thing doesn’t matter to me and it shouldn’t matter to anyone else.

It’s really dumb to me that the excuse of, “Oh it was just a heat of the moment thing and doesn’t reflect my true views” is given a pass every single time by members of the media. When you’re angry, you often do really mean what you say, and that excuse is tired and poor and I’m not letting Rondo off the hook with this one.

If he had said something insulting the call – “that’s a bullshit call, ref – that just somehow seems way more acceptable to me. But attacking Kennedy personally crosses a line for me and reflects a greater issue within the culture of basketball.

Unlike any other sport, basketball is known for its trash talking nature. It’s a tightly contested sport between a bunch of highly competitive athletes who are consistently near each other; trash talk is bound to happen and it does in spades. But trash talk, to me, has become less about getting into your opponents head to gain an advantage, and more about just flat out insulting them and dragging them so far down, mentally, that they don’t play to the level they are capable of.

The end result is the same in both circumstances, but the method of getting there is much different. As Rondo demonstrated in his “heat of the moment” homophobic remarks towards Kennedy, trash talk is getting personal.

When asked about it, legendary Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he wasn’t surprised at all. “You see it all the time…it’s unfortunate and disgusting. Bill is a great guy and a class act, on and off the court. To act in a derogatory way toward anybody in the LGBT community doesn’t make sense. But surprised? Of course not.”

Gregg Popovich
Photo courtesy of AP

That’s messed up. Considering how hard certain groups of people have had to fight to attain even a semblance of equality it disgusts me that derogatory remarks towards those in the LGBT community – among others – are still second nature to some.

And considering that Pop says that things like this happen “all the time” it tells me that this is a cultural issue within basketball. As I mentioned earlier, the trash talking nature of the sport has been carried too far to me and needs to change. Trash talk about your opponent’s game is cool and I’m not saying that’s what needs to go, but the homophobic slurs and the personal attacks within that trash talk have to go.

Lastly, Jalen Rose – a notorious trash talker if there ever was one – recently said that “not enough has been made about Rondo’s homophobic comments.” If freaking Jalen Rose takes issue with Rondo’s comments, then we all should be too. Change trash talking, make basketball a more inclusive sport, and watch it grow internationally.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Rajon Rondo and the NBA’s Cultural Problem

Domestic Violence Double Standards

Domestic violence. Two words that I’ve had to think about way, way too much lately; specifically with regards to Greg Hardy, who I’m also sick of thinking about. But for this article I’m going to bring up another name that you might have forgotten about in the NFL’s domestic violence mini-epidemic.

Ray Rice.

Remember him? The guy who punched his wife unconscious before getting on an elevator in Atlantic City in February 2014. The NFL’s original domestic violence case.

Well, Ray Rice is back in the news with his announcement today that he hopes to someday work for the NFL to raise awareness of domestic violence.

In past articles, I’ve said that I typically want to give athletes the benefit of the doubt with regards to most things. And that being said, I want to believe that Ray Rice has sincere desires to make a positive impact on the NFL in light of his awful mistake 2 February’s ago.

In case you need a refresher on Rice’s story, here you go, cliff notes style.

In February of 2014, Rice and his fiancé Janay Palmer were arrested, detained, and released from jail on charges of a “minor domestic dispute.” TMZ released a video of Rice dragging an unconscious Palmer from an Atlantic City elevator a few days later, and in July the NFL suspended Rice for 2 games. You know, because they need to at least pretend to care.

Then, on September 8th, TMZ released the video of Rice punching Palmer out cold before dragging her lifeless body into the elevator and later dragging her out. The Ravens immediately released Rice hours after the video was released. The NFL then took until the next day to suspend Rice “indefinitely.”

Then came the controversy. The NFL claimed they had never seen the video of Rice punching Palmer until TMZ released it. “You’re telling me that the NFL, one of the most powerful organization on the planet, could not access a video of one of its high profile athletes committing a horrific crime before freaking TMZ could?! Are you kidding me?” I thought.

It was an absolute debacle, both for Rice and the NFL. Rice hasn’t played a down since being released, as he shouldn’t because there is no place in this league for a man who domestically abuses a woman.

But, through all of this, Palmer stood by Rice’s side and supported him. Publicly appearing at press conferences with him, having his back, doing interviews in support of him, even finishing the engagement and getting married.

And though I’m usually not much for athlete apologies, I really did feel for Rice because his remorse was clear and I truly believe he just made a terrible mistake that he’ll regret for the rest of his life.

But Palmer’s remorse also tells me she was nearly equally involved in the incident and feels responsibility for it as well, which doesn’t get talked about in the media because female-on-male domestic violence cases are mostly a joke to the general public. But that’s a different topic for a different day.

And with Rice’s announcement that he is hoping to join the NFL in a role of raising domestic violence awareness is big; big for Rice, and big for the league’s image in trying to come out of a sort of Dark Age in player crime.

But with Rice’s announcement came a sad realization on my part that isn’t remotely surprising, but maddening and unfair.

Right now, the words ‘domestic violence’ seem to be synonymous with Greg Hardy’s name; and that was the first thing that came up in my mind with Rice’s announcement.

I’ve written on the league’s despicable enabling of Hardy solely because he’s a good player, and how unacceptable it is. But at the same time, the league has taken a strong public stand with regards to Rice’s case, suspending him for a really long time in conjunction with all the owners seemingly banding together to not employ him.

So it feels like they’ve done right with the Rice case. But they haven’t. Not even close. Everyone is lacking one key ingredient here.

Consistency.

There is only one reason why Greg Hardy still has a job in the NFL and Ray Rice doesn’t, and probably won’t. It’s because pass rushers are in higher demand and harder to find than running backs these days.

Think about it. Every team in today’s NFL needs a pass rush, it’s imperative to defensive success, and pass rushers are more overvalued than ever. But while every team also needs a running game, running backs have become much, much easier to find; as teams are now finding starting backs in late rounds of the draft and the Patriots just sign a new guy off the street and he runs for 200 yards the same week. So, in today’s NFL, the pass rusher is just worth astronomically more than the running back.

Greg Hardy is a very talented pass rusher, and is being paid and treated as such by the Cowboys, who continue to put up and enable all of his remorseless bullshit that hurts my mind every time he does something new and stupid.

Ray Rice is a talented running back, but running backs aren’t worth a lot anymore, so no team is willing to take the flak that will come with signing Rice when they can just go get another guy that can’t do the job as well as Rice, but won’t have all the baggage and won’t make their team image look so bad.

That, right there, is what’s wrong with the league and why I find myself trying not to like or support the NFL at any opportunity I can get. If a player is talented and can play a vital role, he’ll be coddled and enabled, no matter what kind of shit he puts up.

But if a player, like Rice, isn’t as useful to teams, they won’t even give him a remote glance because the negative pushback that would come from the signing just isn’t worth it to NFL teams’ precious reputations.

Again, let’s look specifically at the cases of Rice and Hardy.

As soon as the video of Rice punching Palmer was made public, Rice was released, suspended, ridiculed, and all good thoughts of him were exiled by the thought police. When the pictures of the injuries sustained by Hardy’s ex-girlfriend after his savage beating of her, the only thing that happened was a bunch of angry bloggers, feminists, and just people in general calling for Hardy’s job.

Did anything remotely close to what happened to Rice happen to Hardy? Absolutely not; in fact, I didn’t hear a peep from the Dallas Cowboys or the NFL after the pictures were released. They just sort of pretended that it wasn’t happening and that all was right with the world.

It’s completely unacceptable that guys like Hardy are enabled, while guys like Rice are spurned and ignored. Have some goddamn consistency and humanity. Have the balls to do what’s right and evaluate both these situations in the same light.

No amount of talent should ever dictate whether or not a player gets punished for breaking the freaking law and committing one of the worst crimes known to man short of murder. That’s just not how this world works.

But it’s how the NFL works. If you’ve got talent, you’ve got a spot in the league, no matter what you do. But if you’re expendable and your position isn’t valued as much as it should be, you better be an absolutely perfect human being, or one slip up and your job is gone.

Should this change? Of course; but will it? Not a chance. Money is king in the NFL, always has been and always will be. That will never change, and Greg Hardy makes the league a lot of money off his talent and merchandise credibility.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, is a problem; a serious freaking problem. A problem that would take years to change because it’s deeply rooted in the culture of not just the NFL, but all professional sports.

I’m tired of writing about it, but I know this isn’t the last article I’ll be writing on this subject, and that makes me sad. But still I hold out hope that things can change, and these words will be my last on this despicable subject.

But until next time, I’ll let these be my last words.

God didn’t put men and women on this planet to be enemies, so stop treating them as such. Love each other, and be willing to forgive after an argument or dispute instead of looking to harm to get your point across. Violence is never the answer, in any case.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Domestic Violence Double Standards

Adrian Peterson and Chewing Tobacco in Sportsdria

            I remember the first time that I watched The Sandlot. I was 8 years old, and over at a friend’s house when his dad popped it in the VCR after hearing that I’d never seen or heard of it.

I learned a lot of new stuff during my first run-through of The Sandlot. I gained a deeper love for the game of baseball, I discovered PF Flyer’s – and really wanted a pair for about a month, as I was a chubby, unathletic kid who figured that one pair of shoes could transform me – and I discovered what chewing tobacco was.

Unless you haven’t seen The Sandlot, then we all remember the scene when Grover pulls out a massive bag of ’Big Chief’ chewing tobacco at the carnival in celebration of their big win against those jerks that try and take their sandlot. “Big Chief?!” all the others exclaim excitedly, “It’s…the best.”

Grover showing the group his prized pack of Big Chief
Grover showing the group his prized pack of Big Chief

What comes next is the part that stuck with me.

When all the boys take a dip and then get onto some spinning ride and every last one of them vomits all over the place and gets off the ride holding their stomachs in pain.

While the scene is still hilarious to me, and one of my go-to quotes for just about anything, the part did stick with me and I remember asking myself, “why would I ever want to do something that would make me throw up like that and make me sick like that?”

To the common person, chewing tobacco might be a bit foreign, as your average Joe workingman might not be addicted to it. But in the culture of athletics, chewing tobacco is extremely prevalent and seemingly everywhere.

Take, for example Adrian Peterson.

Peterson has been, in his own words, “dipping for over 10 years”, and does so frequently during games and practices and whatnot. Now, why do I specifically bring up Peterson? Well, just last week he was nearly forced to be inactive for the Vikings game against the Lions due to a mysterious illness.

As we figured out on Friday of that week, Peterson’s mysterious illness was that he had accidentally – I’m assuming… – swallowed his mouthful of chew and it had made him violently ill and had caused him, much like we saw in that famous Sandlot scene, to throw up.

A professional athlete being paid $12.5 million almost missed a critical game because he swallowed his chewing tobacco. Is this not frustratingly fickle to anyone else?

Photo courtesy of Fox Sports
Photo courtesy of Fox Sports

When the media confronted Peterson about his tobacco incident, he scoffed at it, saying, “I’m surprised they (whoever broke the story) said that. I’ve been dipping for over 10 years; I would never let that happen.” Peterson said all of this with what SI writer Robert Klemko described as “a lip packed so robustly with tobacco, there was at least a half can in there.”

I’m really in no position to criticize Adrian Peterson’s life decisions, seeing as how he is likely much more successful than I will ever be. But what I am criticizing is the current culture of sports that subconsciously makes smokeless tobacco extremely prevalent and widespread.

When Tony Gwynn died of mouth cancer just last June, it was undoubtedly a sad day within not just the baseball family, but the entire sports family. But it was also a very important day as well.

While many mourned the loss of one of baseball’s greatest hitters and human beings, Gwynn’s cancer-induced passing – which he attributed to his habit of dipping smokeless tobacco over the course of his 20 year MLB career – reinforced the dangers and risks that chewing on leaves can cause. Later that afternoon, Diamondbacks closer Addison Reed talked to the media and said that Gwynn’s death had woken him up and made him throw out his stash of smokeless tobacco that was in his locker in an attempt to quit.

But Gwynn’s death is just part of a bigger, cultural issue. One that Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg knows all too well about.

Gwynn was Strasburg’s college coach at San Diego State University, and undoubtedly had a massive impact upon the Nationals’ ace. And, much like Reed, while mourning the death of his former college coach, Strasburg announced his intentions to kick his dipping habit.

Photo courtesy of MLB.com
Photo courtesy of MLB.com

Has he officially quit? I really have no idea, only he and his teammates and family probably know, and that’s really none of my business. But what I do know is Strasburg’s original reasoning behind getting into smokeless tobacco in the first place.

In a 2011 Washington Post article, Adam Kilgore profiled Strasburg’s “powerful addiction” to chewing tobacco and why he’s gotten into it by saying the following:

“Like any other high school kid, Stephen Strasburg wanted to emulate the major league baseball players he watched on television. He mimicked their actions down to the last detail. He rolled his pants up to reveal high socks, wore wristbands at the plate and, during downtime, opened tins of chewing tobacco and pinched some in his lower lip.”

Strasburg later admitted that he just wanted to be like all the guys he was watching on television, and that since they were chewing copious amounts of tobacco he figured he should too.

Without going too deeply into detail about all the types of cancer that can be contracted from dipping smokeless tobacco I just can’t emphasize enough how bad it is, and how erroneous the belief is that the rush of energy felt from the addictive nicotine aids performance. It doesn’t.

When testifying before Congress on the ills of smokeless tobacco, Harvard professor George Connolly described it as, “Simply nasty stuff…there’s no other way to look at it.

If you’re thinking, “Hey, Ryan’s trying to tell me how to live my life and what I should and shouldn’t do and that’s total hypocrisy” you are free to think that. But I’m not so much calling for everyone to quit smokeless tobacco – although that would actually be tremendous – so much as I am calling for major professional athletes to simply be more discrete about their use of it.

Instead of going out to the mound or the plate or the field – a la Jake Peavy, Chase Utley or Adrian Peterson – with a giant cheek or lip full of leaves, do your dipping in the dugout or the clubhouse or the locker room, where kids watching on television can’t see you and won’t want to mimic you.

Utley's cheek full of chew. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Utley’s cheek full of chew. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Peavy's cheek full of chew. Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe
Peavy’s cheek full of chew. Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe

Mark Reynolds used to be a self-prescribed, “heavy dipper”, but now has turned to sunflower seeds to give him the same sense of having a mouthful of food that he apparently needs to play. And being a sunflower seed eater myself, I can attest to that.

So the chewing tobacco that is so widely and copiously consumed by high level athletes everywhere doesn’t necessarily need to go, but the public and almost endorsing use of it needs to. More cases like Stephen Strasburg’s are not what the next generation needs and kids should not feel like they need to do drugs in order to emulate their favorite athletes. And on top of that, maybe we’ll stop hearing about “mysterious illnesses” that keep guys like Adrian Peterson from playing in important games.

As was the case with Big Chief, even if your smokeless tobacco is “…the best!” the health risks are just not worth it.

Thanks for reading…

-Ryan

Adrian Peterson and Chewing Tobacco in Sportsdria

Oscar Taveras: 1 Year Later

One year ago today, Oscar Taveras woke up for the final time
One year ago today, Oscar Taveras woke up for the final time

3:30 AM on Saturday May 31st, 2014, I sit in Santo Domingo International Airport with Wi-Fi for the first time since entering the Dominican Republic 6 days ago. I power my phone up for the first time in those 6 days and a lone Bleacher Report push notification appears.

Cardinals call up #1 prospect Oscar Taveras, in lineup Saturday vs. Giants batting 6th.

My pulse jumped and my heart raced. In the lineup Saturday? Today?! Oscar Taveras is going to make his debut today?! I jumped up, suddenly invigorated with energy, and punched the air in celebration. What a day this was going to be.

For years, I’d only heard about Taveras’ hitting prowess, how he was the second coming of Albert Pujols; but I’d never actually been able to experience his greatness. There were stories of him hitting bottle caps as a child in his native Dominican Republic, stories of him winning batting titles at every minor league level he played at, stories of his infectious smile and spirit. Suffice it to say, we had been expecting him for a long, long time.

And finally, he had arrived. And I’d learned of the news while in his native homeland, no less. I marked the time and day down on my phone so as to always be able to remember where I was when I got the news.

A transfer flight to Miami, a 2 hour layover, and another takeoff later I’m in the air somewhere above central Georgia around the time of first pitch. American Airlines has blessed me with in-flight Wi-Fi and you’d better believe I was taking full advantage of it. Most of that midday flight was lost in sleep, but not me. The Cardinals, and Taveras, had my full attention from 30,000 feet in the air.

Everything that didn’t involve Taveras just dragged. I wished he could have every Cardinal at-bat that day, as he just seemed to be the only thing that mattered to me. Hell, the whole game just dragged, a 0-0 contest through 4.1 innings was barely holding my interest. And then time stood still.

A 1-0 backdoor slider from Yusmiero Petit was the pitch. It stayed up over the outside corner of the plate and Taveras launched into that beautiful, majestic, iconic swing.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images
Photo by Dilip Vishwanat for Getty Images

The audio that had been struggling to come through all game long was suddenly crystal clear, and I can still hear Rick Horton belting out, “The 1-0…HIT HARD…DEEP TO RIGHT…IT’S A LONG ONE…AND IT IS GONE. HOME RUN, OSCAR TAVERAS.”

I loud out an unintentionally loud scream of elation, I high-fived the stranger next to me and punched the sky with both fists. Oscar Taveras had just hit a home run in his second career at bat. It was almost too good to be true. And my only thought was, “The first of many, this kid is special.”

Immediately after hitting his home run and taking a chill-inducing curtain call, the St. Louis skies opened and rain began falling in sheets. Oscar Taveras had literally opened up the skies with his majestic blast; you couldn’t even write this type of script for a movie. The moment was too perfect.

The Taveras curtain call through a driving rain. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The Taveras curtain call through a driving rain. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Five months later he was gone.

I was sitting at home when, once again, a single Bleacher Report push notification appeared on my phone.

Cardinals 22 year old OF Oscar Taveras has died in a single car crash in the Dominican Republic.

It hit me like a punch straight to the chest. I felt the wind get knocked out of me and I couldn’t believe it. I showed it to my Dad to verify that I had indeed read it correctly. His shoulders slumped and he just nodded quietly and gave me a pat on the back before walking away.

I stared at the wall in complete and utter disbelief. My heart hurt, and I was in shock. Just as his home run had been too good to be true, this was just too awful to be true. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. He was supposed to become the greatest Cardinal since Musial, the next Pujols, and the greatest hitter of our generation. That iconic swing that launched his first career home run would someday be immortalized in bronze outside Busch Stadium. But instead, he was dead at 22, also having taken the life of his 18 year old girlfriend with him.

The course of history had been as damaged and altered as the wrecked body of his cherry red Corvette, smashed into a tree along a rain slickened roadside in the Dominican Republic.                                                                                                                                                                              Taveras 4

The same rain that his majestic first home run had brought was now one of the causing factors in his tragic demise.

The very skies that Taveras had opened up on that afternoon in May had opened up for him once again, but this time they would not be returning him to us.

There are two parts to every death, the victim of the death, and the people left behind. In the wake of the tragedy, it brought strength to many grieving souls to witness the way the Cardinals, as a team, came together to honor the memory of their fallen comrade. They became less of a team and more of a family; and at the center of all of the love and support was Carlos Martinez, Taveras’ childhood friend who understandably took his death extremely hard.

Taveras' moving funeral in his native Puerto Plata. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Taveras’ moving funeral in his native Puerto Plata. Photo by Chris Lee for St. Louis Post-Dispatch

And among the other people left behind that should not be neglected, Taveras’ now two year old son, Oscar Yadier Taveras – who not only lost his dad, but also lost his acting mother and Taveras’ 18 year old girlfriend, Edelia Arvelo. And his middle name alone should tell you what kind of family the Cardinals are and what kind of impact that had on Taveras.

But for as unexpected and tragic as this was, the situation got a hell of a lot more complicated just about two weeks later. Once again, Bleacher Report did the honors, delivering the push notification that created said complication.

Dominican police reports show Cardinals’ OF Oscar Taveras’ blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit at time of fatal crash.

My heart sank in my chest. I didn’t want to believe it was true. I wanted to think that it was just a rain-slickened road accident, and nothing more. Somehow that made his death easier to swallow.

But now, things were convoluted.

When I began driving, one of the things that my Mom told me that has stuck with me was, “Every time you get behind the wheel, you hold a lot of lives in your hands, and every decision you make can end any given number of those lives.”

As I briefly mentioned earlier, not only did Taveras essentially rob the world of his own life by strapping in behind the wheel that afternoon while heavily inebriated, the life of his 18 year old girlfriend, Edelia Arvelo, was lost.

The problem is not nearly as simple as, Taveras made a really stupid choice and now we’re all dearly paying for it. First off, public transportation in the Dominican Republic is not easily accessible. Taveras couldn’t really have just called up an Uber, or called a cab or taken a bus. It isn’t that simple down there. And second off, the quality of the roads in the Dominican Republic is absolutely atrocious, which also contributed to his loss of control over the car. So beyond the idea of not driving drunk, those are two other issues that can be solved to potentially save lives.

But, at the same time, the problem can be as simple as just not driving drunk. And, I’ll expand that to distracted driving of any kind. And I’ve been a victim of this in my own experience.

Last summer, I suffered an extremely painful concussion and broken wrist in a 2 car accident on the highway, caused when our car was hit from behind by a driver going 40 MPH who was too buried in his phone too look up and stop in time. Our car was effectively crumpled, and my head and arm were both smashed off the dashboard.

I still feel pain from this experience to this day, and I take distracted or impaired driving of any kind very seriously. The driver of the car that hit ours stepped out to talk to us and admitted that he was on his phone at the time of the accident. And he didn’t even seem apologetic about it, in fact he didn’t even seem to care, and that completely disgusted me.

So after moving forward from the initial grief of the Taveras tragedy, we move into what we can learn from the incident. Plain and simple, impaired and distracted driving are unacceptable, and must be avoided at all costs.

As my dear Mother made clear to me, driving is dangerous enough as is. Driving while inebriated or while bothered with something that takes your eyes off the road just increases that danger astronomically. And as innocent as it seems, it can have incredibly dire consequences, as we so tragically learned from Oscar Taveras.

So, on the one year anniversary of two completely unnecessary and unexpected deaths, I implore you, dear reader; put down your phone, call a cab, call an Uber, call your friends, do whatever you have to do. Just don’t drive while distracted or impaired. Life is precious, and not to be tempted unnecessarily.

And for all of the special gifts that Oscar Taveras blessed the world with, he robbed himself, and one other person of the greatest gift of all.

The gift of life.

Thanks for reading…

– Ryan

Oscar Taveras: 1 Year Later