Did you hear that? That was the sound of a nation letting out a collective sigh of relief.
The NFL will have a season, and all is once again right with the universe. The lockout is officially over and now you can move forward with important decisions like when to schedule your fantasy draft.
I guess I always believed deep down the owners and players would eventually come to some kind of resolution, but I was starting to have more doubts and I actually began to envision a world with no professional football. It wasn’t a pretty picture.
Sure, you’d still have college football but that would only account for half of a weekend. It wouldn’t have been enough. What would you have done with all that free time on Sunday afternoons and Monday nights? The hours normally reserved for eating wings, drinking beer, and finding that optimal couch position would have been spent shopping with wives and girlfriends, getting yard work done, or finally fixing that leaking faucet. It would have been a world with empty sports bars, crowded golf courses, and a lot of men walking around Target in a semi-conscious haze mumbling about missing the second half of a game that wouldn’t even exist.
Its Fourth of July weekend and we as Americans have so much to be thankful for in this great country of ours. Despite our struggles and our differences, we still have our freedom and a way of life that is the envy of the rest of the world. I for one firmly believe in the concept of American exceptionalism.
But just because we are exceptional as a country, does that mean all of our sports have to be exceptional as well?
Two weeks ago the media was gushing over Rory McIlroy’s performance at the US Open. The so-called “experts” were heaping praise on McIlroy while simultaneously lamenting the demise of American golf. “Where is the next great American golfer?” they wondered. “Is America losing ground to the rest of the world?” was a question of much debate among golf writers and analysts. Of course those conversations led to “is there an American kid out there who’s going to take over for Tiger?”It was one big pity party. It couldn’t possibly be that the rest of the world is catching up, could it? No, no something must be wrong with golf in this country.
If you’ve watched any tennis at Wimbledon over the last couple weeks, the conversation has been exactly the same. Hosts, reporters, and commentators all emphasizing the downfall of American tennis and wondering if it will ever get back to the level it once was when names like McEnroe, Connors, Evert, Sampras, Agassi, and Williams carried the dialogue.
I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but this doesn’t bother me at all.
Acting as Commissioner of a professional sports league cannot be an easy job. It requires business savvy, knowledge of the law, negotiating skills, and the ability to wade through piles of criticism while maintaining a tough, confident appearance. Most of the job responsibilities aren’t glamorous, and the hours are long. Commissioners are rarely praised and often vilified. For the most part, I think the four Commissioners, David Stern (NBA), Roger Goodell (NFL), Bud Selig (MLB), and Gary Bettman (NHL), do a pretty decent job. But every fan wonders what it would be like to be in charge. We’d all love to take the ownership reigns of our favorite team for a week, but how does one attempt to change an entire league? Well, like this for starters.
NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION
The first thing I’d address as NBA Commissioner is what I like to call the “redundancy factor.” The league’s biggest problem is that 75 percent of its teams are almost irrelevant. This is a league that revolves around seven or eight franchises at the most. The conversation, the media, and the telecasts, focus on these so-called elite teams like the Lakers, Celtics, Spurs, Mavericks, Heat, and Magic. The rest of the league is barely worth talking about and that has to change. The gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” has to close for the NBA to become an all-around better product, because when only a few teams have an actual shot to win a title before the season even starts, then why is the regular season interesting? Where’s the drama? Right now, we’re all just biding our time until the playoffs start. In my mind, the best way to solve this problem is contraction. I know it’s a dirty word, but it’s time. Too many small market teams (Milwaukee, Utah, Sacramento) acquire star players only to see them bolt in a couple years for one of the big cities. The teams that can hold onto stars are eventually forced to trade them away because the players have too much power (i.e. Carmelo Anthony and Deron Williams). Getting rid of six teams would help bring the league back into a better competitive balance. Talent wouldn’t be spread so thin, and increased parity is the result. In other words, a more interesting, compelling NBA than what we have right now. It gives me no pleasure to do it, but I’m taking the ax to these teams:
Only a week til Christmas, so its a little late for wish lists. I won’t be asking for anything extraordinary from my family and friends at this point. Get me the sweater, the book, the DVD, and I’m a happy guy.
But let’s pretend for a moment there is a sports Santa Claus. A sports version of St. Nick who is very interested in making the wishes of sports fans come true. Well Mr. Claus, I’ve been pretty good this year and I have a few requests.
Here is what I want for Christmas:
I WANT A COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF
I know Santa, you get this one a lot, but I’m never going to stop wishing for this. I’m thrilled with an Oregon/Auburn matchup in the title game, but the BCS continues to get lucky and that can’t last forever. I’ll even admit TCU probably isn’t as good as Oregon or Auburn, but shouldn’t that be decided on the field? The Horned Frogs did absolutely everything that was asked of them, but won’t get a sniff of a championship simply because of discrimination toward smaller schools and non-traditional powers. I don’t care how big or small the playoff is, I just want a level playing field here. And spare me the excuses of extra games, protecting student-athletes, and preserving the bowl system. The bowl system is a middling mess of mediocrity. You mean we might miss out on Florida International vs. Toledo in the Little Caesar’s Bowl? Good, I’d rather watch curling anyway. Trust me Santa, if you want to stop receiving these letters, you’ll find a way to make this happen for me and the countless fans who hate seeing this sport’s champion be crowned by ignorant human voters and soulless computers.
I WANT THE NCAA BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT TO STAY AT 65 TEAMS
College football may get it wrong, but college basketball gets it right. There is no need to expand March Madness to 96 teams as is being discussed by the NCAA. 65 teams means the little guy still has a shot and that’s all the little guy is asking for.
Good morning Mr. Bryant. You don’t know me, you’ve never even met me. I’m just a guy from Oklahoma who wants to see you succeed. This will only take a few minutes of your time.
First of all, let me say I’m in awe of your talent and potential. The performance you put on against the Giants on Monday night was nothing short of spectacular. There are maybe, maybe a handful of guys in the league that could field a punt over their shoulder, retreat inside the ten yard line, then turn up field and go untouched for 93 yards. As if that wasn’t jaw dropping enough, you caught four passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns. You were a one man show and the entire country took notice. You are the only bright spot on a Cowboys team in complete disarray. You’re making Jerry Jones look like a genius for drafting you, and let’s face it, that’s not easy. After all, he’s the guy who thought Wade Phillips was the answer.
I hope you become known as one of the best receivers in the game. And I hope that’s all you become known for. I guess I’m a little nervous because, honestly Dez, you’re kind of a knucklehead. Your track record of decision making isn’t exactly sparkling.
Last season at Oklahoma State, you lied to NCAA officials about your relationship with Deion Sanders. Yes, you admitted your mistake and you came clean, but the NCAA saw fit to suspend you for the remainder of the season. It shows you thought of yourself before thinking of your teammates. I know, the penalty was way too harsh for telling a little fib, but like it or not, it’s still a blemish on your record.
You couldn’t workout at the annual NFL combine, so you scheduled a pro day in your hometown of Lufkin, Texas. Scouts and coaches gathered to see you; a huge opportunity to improve your draft stock and maybe even silence some critics. You showed up with a 10-man entourage. Having friends is a good thing, but you could have saved the entourage for after you got drafted. Pro day was an opportunity for humility and performance. You should have kept your head down, mouth shut, and gone to work. NFL teams didn’t appreciate the attitude and the ego. On top of that, you forgot your shoes. Possibly the biggest day of your life, a day that could earn or cost you millions of dollars. You put such little thought into it, you couldn’t even show up with the right footwear? What the scouts saw was an impressive specimen on the field, but they also left with questions about your character.
In February, you signed a contract with Under Armour. The company paid you good money to wear its shoes and clothing. But in May, you showed up at a workout decked out in Nike apparel. Needless to say, this didn’t go over too well with the Under Armour execs and they dropped you faster than a football off the hands of Roy Williams. What part of “under contract” didn’t you understand? See Dez, it’s another incident that shows lack of intelligence, thought, and maturity.
When training camp started, the aforementioned Mr. Williams wanted you to carry his pads off the field. It’s a rookie ritual, it’s been going on in the NFL for decades. You refused and made it clear that you weren’t at camp to be carrying anyone’s pads. That refusal turned into a full-blown media circus. Yet another chance to be humble and accept your role. Instead you made it all about you Dez. It didn’t matter whether you agreed with the ritual or not, because it was an opportunity for you to earn the respect of your teammates. An innocent rite of passage, turned into a divided locker room and brought unnecessary attention to you and your team.
Your effort to make it up to Williams and other teammates also drew the wrong kind of attention. In September, you paid $54,896 for dinner for you and your boys at a Dallas steakhouse. No question, you can afford the filet. One dinner is just a small chunk of your 8.3 million dollar signing bonus. Affordability wasn’t the issue here Dez. There are millions of Americans who would love to make 55K in a year and who struggle to feed their families. How about donating a chunk of change to a local charity? Or, if you’re going to have a dinner with teammates, why not do it discreetly and privately? It’s no secret that athletes spend exorbitant amounts of money on things they don’t need, but those purchases aren’t always rubbed in the face of the public. This didn’t have to make headlines Dez. Again, attention for the wrong reasons.
I know these sound like little things. I know you didn’t hurt anyone, and you weren’t convicted of any crime. But Dez, you strike me as a guy who loves the limelight, a guy who wants the headlines, no matter what they might be. I know you had a rough upbringing and unstable family life. I give you all the credit in the world for making it out of that situation and achieving your dream. Now that you’re in the NFL, I’m pleading with you Dez, surround yourself with the right people. Think before you speak and before you act. Don’t go down the same roads as Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. Their careers have turned into sideshows. They’re barely taken seriously as football players. Don’t let it happen to you, Dez.
If you want to have a long, successful career in the NFL, it’s going to happen because of talent, not because of foolish antics. As an Oklahoman, I want to see more of what I saw on Monday night. I’m rooting for you, and I believe in you. I know I’m not the only one.
Thank you for listening, Mr. Bryant.
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.