Category Archives: Sports Philosophy

A deeper look at what we root for and why.

Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito, and Not Giving a Shit

Martin_IncognitoThis news has been a whirlwind for the last few days as Jonathan Martin left the Dolphins because of “bullying”.

Now before I get much into it this event was a bit of a perfect storm. First, Richie Incognito is a bad dude. The list of fines, incidents and whatnot is long and ugly. However, despite all of that Incognito had a job with the Dolphins.

Why? Because he’s good obviously. Incognito was a Pro Bowl caliber player last year and is considered one of the top 12 guards in the league this year by Pro Football Focus.

On the other hand there’s Jonathan Martin. Martin is a second year player (note: not a rookie) who was expected to play a pivotal role at left tackle after letting Pro Bowler Jake Long leave as a free agent.

How is he playing? Like crap. Martin is the 63rd best tackle in the league as rated by PFF allowing seven sacks and another seven QB hits during the seven games he played. A second round draft pick a year ago, he’s a complete failure thus far.

Now what can make this pairing any worse? The fact that they played next to each other on the line.

Now as someone who is a football obsessive and a former lineman myself, there’s something that needs to be understood: toughness is an essential part of the game. Sure you can be the world’s biggest, fastest, and strongest man, but if you’re not mentally tough odds are you won’t be successful in the NFL.

Consider the case of Vince Young. Young was a top class athlete coming out of college and played one of the single greatest college performances of all time in the Rose Bowl of his senior year. When he came out of college the success bled into his rookie year. He was Rookie of the Year, a Pro Bowler, and the Madden cover player. Life was good.

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Are you a Tebowmaniac?

Does Tim Tebow’s fame confuse you as much as it confused me?

I took a long, long time to study the phenomenon, and this essay is the result. Touching on historical, statistical, sociocultural, and media-related causes, this essay is a truly comprehensive study of Tebow’s baffling fame. Some of this stuff just might surprise you.

Read it now!

Despite Rampant Steroid Usage, MLB has Huge Balls

image via personal.psu.edu

image via personal.psu.edu

In what has become a super-scandal of sorts (Roidsgate, anyone? No?), the MLB could be suspending 20+ players due to their connection with a Florida group called Biogenesis. Assuming that most of the accused parties are suspended, this will be another damaging blow for baseball as it continues its quest to make the game clean.

Some of baseball’s biggest names are connected to Biogenesis. Ryan Braun of the Milwaukee Brewers, Nelson Cruz of the Rangers and the already disgraced Yankee Alex Rodriguez have all been listed as suspects thus far. This is great and terrible news.

On the surface, this is ugly. The war on steroids has been exhausting for the MLB as it fights to regain the image of America’s beloved pastime. The problem is that you need stars to sell every sport and when those stars appear tarnished (deserved or not) the casual fan shies away. Instead, they seek the stars who seem unquestionable, unbreakable, heroic…and from other sports.

The problem is that cheating is prevalent in all of the other leagues, they simply don’t have the guts to root it out.

For example, in the NBA eight players have been given suspensions for the use of banned substances. Ever. The most recent case being Hedo Turkoglu, who was suspended 20 games for using methenolone in February. However, the NBA is content with allowing cheating considering their questionable drug testing procedures and the presence of a star-loving, meddlesome commissioner in David Stern.
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Here comes the Bride. Let’s get her!

image via simpsonscrazy.com

image via simpsonscrazy.com

Recently, what has become a big story round the NovaCare complex is that new addition Cary Williams and tackle Jason Peters have not been at the team’s organized team activities. “They’re getting paid millions of dollars. They should get their asses over there” is a common theme.

And it’s stupid.

Cary Williams, the 26 year-old who hasn’t missed a game in the last two seasons, wasn’t in attendance because he is getting his new life together. Williams just got married and chose to monitor the building of his new house and enjoy some time with his new spouse by watching his daughter’s recital instead of attending optional practices. Jason Peters has missed the same voluntary practices over the last few weeks for unidentified personal reasons as well.

For anyone that this bothers…do you have a recital of your own coming up?

Imagine you’re in high school, you have a Latin final coming up and you’re good at it. Meaning you know that Julius Caesar wasn’t some guy who just happened to love pizza on a stick. Would you go to an optional review session? Probably not. You’ll study on your own terms for the time being—and maybe eat pizza on a stick.

In this case, Williams doesn’t want to go to work when he doesn’t have to either. And the only reason for him likely not being there is he wants to enjoy some free time with his new wife while he can before football takes over his life for the majority of the year. Is that really something to be mad about? When practices are voluntary?

And while Jason Peters is out for whatever the personal reason may be, do you really doubt his ability to come in a play like a stud tackle for the start of the season when he could have played last year and still has all of the mandatory minicamps, training camp and the preseason to prepare?

We all love the Eagles, guys, and of course we want them to succeed; but the regular season isn’t until September 9th. If you blamed anything in that game on missing a few practices in May it would be absolutely laughable.

Put the pitchfork down. It’s going to be ok.

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The stat geeks are taking over Philadelphia. Isn’t it great?

76ers GM Sam Hinkie, Ballin’ with Maths
Image via BlackSportsOnline

It’s said that football is a game of inches. And basketball is a game of inches. Hockey? Why not. Game of inches. Screw it, let’s make it a party, baseball is a game of friggin’ inches, too.

Enough.

It’s time to upgrade our thinking – and our platitudes – for the 21st century. Screw inches. Our beloved pastimes are really all games of probability.

And Philadelphia’s teams are finally catching up. It’s about damned time.

The two most recent hires in the big four of Philly sports, Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and now 76ers GM Sam Hinkie, are not traditionalists. The foundations for their respective philosophies, Chip’s playcalling and Hinkie’s talent acquisition, are built on foreign, impenetrable, numerical concepts such as “expected values.”

Many people have a problem with probabilities – and by extension the study thereof, that mathematical voodoo known as analytics. The term ‘analytics’ often conjures a couple of images, and neither are particularly flattering. One is that of the pasty, bespectacled weakling with a pocket protector and a TI-89, jealously crunching numbers as he fantasizes about athletic prowess he’ll never have, cheerleaders he’ll never date, and popularity he’ll never achieve. The other, more sinister depiction is the business executive in a 15th floor office furnished with exotic hardwoods and floor-to-ceiling windows, dispassionately assigning numbers to real people from high on his throne and then buying, selling, or trading them as he might deal in rice futures or credit default swaps. But stereotyping aside, I suspect most fans simply misunderstand the concept.

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And Now We Know: The Eagles 2013 Draft Reflection

Photo via Delco Times (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Photo via Delco Times (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

There has been a ton of speculation regarding the changes that would inevitably take place once Big Balls Chip Kelly was hired as the head coach of the Eagles. So far, most of the analysis has been fairly shallow.

He’s not a bore at his press conferences, he plays music at practices, he talks a mean game about having a mean team. That’s fantastic, however, still only a few crumbs of food from a king’s feast. The draft finally provided an opportunity to develop a sincere understanding of Chip’s philosophy and the general direction of the franchise.

The key word at the center of this draft is the word versatility. Every player that the Eagles drafted this year (Barkley excluded) has the ability to be used in multiple looks. Lane Johnson can play left and right tackle, Zach Ertz could feasibly be four different positions on the field on any given play, and guys like Jordan Poyer played safety and corner in college. All of this plays to Chip Kelly’s favor and supports his notion of putting players in the position to succeed.

Many times that sentiment is lip service from coaches. Andy Reid had a square peg (Michael Vick) and bludgeoned it to smithereens with a hammer (passed 45 times a game). This attitude of fitting players into a scheme rather than catering to their talents is a disservice to the team, the organization, and the fans.

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Victor Cruz Should Not Be a New York Giant

Photo via ESPN.com

Photo via ESPN.com

During this offseason Victor Cruz has been a restricted free agent. However, not a single team in the NFL attempted to acquire his services. Not one.

ARE YOU F%&*@$# SERIOUS!

This is Victor Cruz we’re talking here! The 26 year-old Pro Bowl wide receiver that causes nightmares in the slot was available…and no one was interested.

Given his stats, it’s impossible to imagine why. Let’s take a look.


Year G Rec Yds Avg Yds/G Lng TD
2012 16 86 1092 12.7 68.2 80T 10
2011 16 82 1536 18.7 96 99T 9
Average 16 84 1314 15.7 82.1 —– 9.5

From the numbers, it’s obvious that Cruz is a playmaker (check some highlights here)—and a consistent one at that. In two seasons of play (he was developing his first year and recorded no stats) Cruz has managed 168 catches, 2,628 yards and 19 touchdowns while earning a Super Bowl ring. That’s a pretty damn good resume. In addition, his average of 18.7 yards per catch in 2011 was the best in the entire league for anyone with more than 45 catches and he had nearly double that number.

Simply put, Cruz is an explosive weapon and has already proven that he can be a vital cog on a championship caliber team.

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Thoughts on Kevin Ware, and Why Sports Matter to Us

Teammate Russ Smith reacts to Kevin Ware’s injury
Image via SBNation.com

“Just win the game.”

Considering how much of American life revolves around playing, watching, contemplating, studying, and discussing sports, it sometimes seems that it would require a remarkable feat of self-delusion to believe that it’s really worth so much time and effort. After all, don’t sports at the highest levels ultimately amount to little more than spectacle? Athletic exhibitions that distract our energies from those things that really count in life? Such skepticism is justified.

“I’m ok. Just win the game”

Yet, there are those ephemeral moments in sporting life that enlighten us about our nature. Sometimes there are instants that transcend the contest on the court, the bounce of the ball, the tick of the clock. Sometimes sports reveal our humanity.

“Just go win the game”

Kevin Ware’s body failed him spectacularly. Imagine jumping 18 inches and falling 30 feet. Doctors later said that Ware’s injury, a compound fracture in his lower leg, typically occurs only in high-speed collisions, like a car crash. He was bloody, mangled. Just skin held him together. In another place, another time, the 20-year-old would have lost his foot.

But in the midst of terror and trauma, something truly beautiful happened. Kevin Ware, who in seconds had lost so much, somehow managed to give a little more.  Read the rest of this entry

What the Eagles Cap Space Means for the Future

According to a report from ProFootballTalk, the Eagles are listed as having $26.3 million dollars in cap room. That’s the 5th most space in the entire league and it makes me dance like a seven year-old who’s told to hold it during phonics.

Why? Cap space is everything in this league.

During the first decade of the Reid era the Eagles were a perfect example of the importance of cap space. By signing younger players to long (sometimes seven-year) contracts and losing veterans too soon rather than paying them big bucks and watching them decline, the team had tons of flexibility as a result. For example, this strategy allowed for the Birds to sign Asante Samuel, who had a great carreer in Philly.

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The “crown of the helmet” rule doesn’t make it flag football

Crown of the HelmetJust shut up, Emmitt Smith. You’re standing in the way of safety and progress. You’re being an ass.

Despite my begrudging respect for the Hall-of-Fame worthy career of the man who holds the record for most rushing yards in league history, Emmitt Smith’s tirade following the announcement of the new “crown of the helmet” rule is playing havoc with the insecurities of fans and players. It’s also ignorant and shortsighted.

For those who missed it, the NFL Competition Committee passed a rule change prohibiting players from executing a “forcible blow with the crown of the helmet” while outside of the tackle box. (Video explanation of the rule here.)

Of course, before the full verbiage of the rule even became public (my case for calling him ignorant), Emmitt Smith was already spouting his misguided concerns in a very public way to the Dallas Morning News. He called the rule ‘ridiculous.’ “You’ve been taught since you were a little kid to get behind your shoulder pads to protect yourself and lower your shoulder,” said Smith in a phone interview on Monday. “The first thing you do is lower your shoulder but attached to your shoulder is your head. It’s not like you’re trying to go in there and really trying to deliver a blow but your head is part of protecting yourself.”

Sure, that sounds reasonable enough. Until you consider the specifics of the rule. Which won’t do very much to change the game at all.

Let’s break it all down:

1) What is the crown of the helmet?

The crown of the helmet is the top of the helmet (see graphic above). It’s not the whole helmet, as many fear it to be. Rams coach Jeff Fisher, one of the most outspoken proponents of the rule change, specifically indicated that the runner still has the opportunity to initiate contact with the face mask or forehead. So essentially this rule amounts to not “dipping your head” while you try to run through somebody. Dipping your head is how people get compression fractures in their vertebrae. Dipping your head is how you get bulging discs. Sure, you can break a tackle by doing it, but you run the risk of knocking yourself out (or worse) in the process.  Read the rest of this entry

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