Knapsacking Up: Default

I Am Male… I am the default.

Most of my early memories revolve around sports. I can’t remember the televised bomb cameras of the Persian Gulf War, but I remember turning a Kleenex into a Homer Hanky for the 1991 World Series. I don’t remember much from 6th grade, but I do remember our perfect baseball season that summer. I can’t remember my family’s birthdays without a text from my sister, but I still remember playing competitive games of football alone, throwing passes to myself and falling to the ground as though I had just been tackled.

What? I grew up on a farm.

I played baseball, football, golf, and basketball. I played sports, which is why I was taken aback listening to the Half-Assed Morning Show on 93X a few weeks ago. The two DJs, Josh and Nick, were interviewing a Fox Sports North correspondent who would soon be covering Hockey Day Minnesota. Nick asked if she was ever injured while playing girls hockey in high school.

That was the moment I came to realize that I was the default. If something seems insulting about the fact that a sport is given a different name simply because of the sex of the athletes, then congratulations! You have at least the deductive reasoning skills of an elm tree.

But, hey! Maybe contact and checking are so integral to the game of hockey for you that women’s hockey isn’t “real” hockey. There’s something to be said for that line of reasoning. However, it still doesn’t take into account the much larger problem with “girl’s hockey.”

Men play in the National Basketball League. Women play in the Women’s National Basketball League. Men play on the PGA Tour. Women play on the Ladies PGA Tour. The message is clear: Men play sports, women play women’s sports. It’s not men’s sports and women’s sports. It’s regular sports and then the female variant of the be-donged default.

There are sports, like volleyball, that do the same thing in reverse. There are sports, like tennis, that get it right. Sadly, these are the exceptions to the rule.

Perhaps the most interesting part is that while men are the societal default, women are the biological default. Every baby is female until a Y chromosome gets involved (Thanks, Wikipedia!). Then, upon birth, that child leaves the relative meritocracy of the womb and enters American society. More like a merit-cock-racy? Amirite?

Maybe one day, after Title IX continues to guarantee athletic access to women, things will even out. Until then, I’ll just keep playing WNBA Live 2008.

Knapsacking Up: Heroes

I Am Male… I have easily accessible heroes.

Growing up, I never had a shortage of heroes. First, when I was really young and determined to be a farmer, it was my dad. When I was introduced to sports, they became athletes like David Robinson, Shane Mack, and Sammy Sosa. Later, when I discovered history, I was drawn towards World War II heroes like Raymond Spruance, Ernest Evans, and Winston Churchill.

We’re in a feminist series, so I won’t insult you by explaining what they all have in common. (Cool first names? You’re not very good at this, are you, nonexistent reader?) I can’t imagine what it would have been like to be a woman growing up at the same time. Where, other than my own life, would I have been able to find childhood heroes?

It wouldn’t have been in sports. The Williams Sisters? Yeah, nothing like tennis talk around the classroom water cooler. Jackie Joyner Kersey? Yay! A hero every four years! Rebecca Lobo? Cool, but it’s not like there’s some sort of women’s version of the NBA in which she can play after college.

It wouldn’t have been in history. What important contributions to history by women are studied in elementary or middle school, other than, perhaps, the requisite Rosa Parks lesson in February? Not to demean the courage or heroism of Mrs. Parks, but her inclusion is much more about tokenism than a genuine exploration of women’s roles in history or the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

It wouldn’t have been in politics. I would imagine little girls were about as interested in growing up to be Madeleine Albright as much as I wanted to be the next James Baker III. Although, to be fair, Dean Acheson’s mustache is something to which every young man should ascribe.

Secretary of State references!

Secretary of State references!

It wouldn’t have been television, where the only strong pre-Buffy leads were… ummmm… (/Wikipedias “90’s television female leads.” No results except “Who searches Wikipedia like that?”) You get the idea.

Hell, there weren’t even great female heroes in comics. You, know? The place that HAS NOTHING BUT HEROES! I suppose Wonder Woman was alright, but she was about it unless you wanted Superman with boobs and a skirt or Batman with boobs and really sensible footwear for a thief.

I’m sure female heroes existed in some obscure comics or television programs that lasted all of a season before cancellation. But you had to work to find them. I didn’t to find any of mine.

You know what? I liked Buffy too.

Knapsacking Up: Athletic Objectification

I Am Male… I do not need to worry about being objectified during athletic competition.

Homecoming is usually an exciting time at any high school. Although my school substitutes a sense of school pride with class rivalries, there remains a general buzz of excitement throughout the week. Homecoming always culminates in a pepfest on Friday which serves to crown Homecoming royalty and promote that evening’s football game.

Two years ago, one of the student emcees was tasked with introducing the school dance team. With a booming voice, he declared, “Hope you’re not wearing sweatpants, guys! Here comes the dance team!”

Project1Rejected introductions presumably included “Try to keep your boners in check! Here’s a bunch of women in tight clothes!” and “Don’t jerk off until you get home, boys! Here’s some things that exist only for your sexual gratification! Meat! Meat! Meat! Meat!”

I never had to worry about this when I was in high school, and not just because I had yet to develop my glorious beard. No matter the game, men can play sports without the fear of objectification.

For women, it’s clearly not the case, regardless of level of competition. High school dance teams are obvious. Beach volleyball players play in bikinis. Indoor volleyball players have those volleyball shorts (It would be inappropriate and hypocritical for me to shout “Damn!” right now, right?). Even female mixed-martial artists have no chance for national exposure unless they possess Gina Carano levels of attractiveness. Bertha the Destroyer doesn’t sell pay-per-views.

Let’s talk about football.

Football players wear giant pads that accentuate strong chests and broad shoulders. Football players wear skin-tight pants. Football players wear a protective cup that transforms any dude into Protruding Junk Man; athlete by day, crotch bulging vigilante by night.

This is not only the most homoerotic description of football ever, but great evidence that football players should be very easy to sexually objectify. I’m a straight dude and I’m flying half-mast right now.

What do you think I meant?

What do you think I meant?

Still, it doesn’t happen. Can you picture a woman saying, “HOLD ON TO YOUR VAGINAS, LADIES! HERE COMES THE FOOTBALL TEAM!”

I can’t. It’s unimaginable to me. And that’s the point. It’s my privilege as an American male to not have to worry about it.

My Unreasonable Love of Kevin Harlan

Back in college, I was part of a one-act play. It was sort of a “Friday Night Lights” story about a high school football coach under great pressure for reasons I can’t remember. Just pressure to win maybe? Perhaps he was starting his son and dodging nepotism allegations? I don’t remember anymore.

I got a short scene as the coach’s son, but my favorite part came at the end. The “big game” against MacGuffin High had ended in victory, but we had to let the audience know without portraying any actual football.

The solution? Radio. I stood just off-stage, breaking down the game’s action. My Kevin Harlan Voice was like the only choice I could make. It was a knock-off at best, but it was still enough to garner compliments for a “great announcer voice.”


I have an unreasonable love of Kevin Harlan.

Some of it comes from my formative sports years. 90’s NBA was the greatest era of any sport, but it was about as much part of that era as The War at Home was part of the Third Golden Age of Television. Although the hometown Minnesota Timberwolves were terrible, they did have Kevin Harlan calling the action. After all, they’re called your formative years for a reason. If there’s a voice in your ear taking about a thing you love, you’re probably going to love that voice.

And what a voice! It’s that deep, beautiful baritone that lends instant credibility to anything. The sort of voice that if you heard it calling squirrel waterskiing on The Ocho, you’d be like “Whoa…This waterskiing is really important and I immediately buy into the narrative.”

It’s not just “the voice,” however. Continue reading

Prodigal Son (Part 2)


Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated

About one year ago, I wrote this.

This year, I get to post the picture above.

I won’t say that I deserve it anymore than I would have a year ago. In fact, I probably deserve it less. But that’s not going to stop me from enjoying it.

Can I justify that? I don’t know. I do know that we’d probably have pretty miserable existences if we only enjoyed the things we deserved.

2014 NFL Pythagorean Strength of Schedule

Even before the 2013 NFL Season came to its anti-climactic close, we were already set for the 2014 Season. We still don’t know dates or times of any matchup, but we know every team’s opponents  for the 2014 Season.

From that data, some have already used 2013 win/loss records to determine each team’s strength of schedule for the 2014 Season. According to the results, the Oakland Raiders have the toughest schedule and the Indianapolis Colts have the easiest.

However, winning percentage isn’t a great predictor for how good a team will be the next year. A better one is a team’s “Pythagorean Projection.” The basic idea is that a team’s points scored and points allowed are better indicators of how that team will do the next year than the team’s winning percentage.

Maybe a team had a great (or terrible) record in close games. Maybe a team recovered a very high (or low) percentage of their fumbles. Maybe a quarterback recorded a crazily high (or low) interception rate thanks to the sure hands (or butterfingers) of opposing defensive backs. These stats tend to regress towards the mean the next year, implying that luck plays a bigger role in the outcome of football games than we might think. (Bill Barnwell explains with evidence here. Go to “Football’s Pythagorean Theorem” further down the page.)

So, here’s the 2014 NFL strength of schedule using Pythagorean “Expected Wins” instead of Games Won. Continue reading

My Evening with LeBron James

Sixteen years ago, I attended my first NBA game. It was a DARE field trip and a Minnesota Timberwolves team on the cusp of relevance was playing the Utah Jazz. Karl Malone was there. John Stockton was there. Tom Gugliotta was probably there. I bought a David Robinson pennant. I peed next to Flip Saunders.

Sixteen year later, I attended my second NBA game, mostly to see LeBron James.

I’m no fan of LeBron. I’ve poked plenty of fun at him in the past and he broke my heart beyond description during last year’s Finals. Even if I always hate him, he now commands my eternal respect. Watching him play basketball live was beyond beautiful; it was frightening.

It isn’t just that he’s large. And powerful. And fast. And graceful. It’s that he combines all of those things together in a way that makes “violent” the only proper adjective.

LeBron James plays basketball like the US Marine Corps conducts war. It’s surgical, it controls the tempo (usually fast), it’s powerful, and it is both emotionless and remorseless in its precision.

So, yeah. James and the Heat beat the hometown Wolves 103-82. Everyone had their scrubs in by the middle of the 4th quarter. But, I got to see the best in the world.

The Least Self-Aware Place on Earth

Welcome to the NFL, the least self-aware place on Earth.

Where billionaires can secure hundreds of millions of dollars from the general public, despite emerging evidence  that the economic benefit of new stadiums to the community has been grossly over-exaggerated. Enjoy the $10 beers, Minneapolis.

Where there’s somehow still a team named after a racial epithet in fucking 2013. Tradition!

Where the NFL’s glacial approach to concussion research is defended or minimized. As long as it happens to other people, “they knew the risks.” Except when they don’t.

Where apparently enough people haven’t shot themselves in the head yet to take mental illness, concussions, or the costs of macho culture seriously.

Where a 3.2 year average career does nothing to change a culture so thoroughly infused with testosterone that thoughtfulness, reflection, and safety are perceived as weaknesses.

Where we regularly castigate players for stupidity and criminality while ignoring Art Rooney’s potential tax evasion, Jimmy Haslam’s fraud allegations, and Zigi Wilf’s racketeering. Here, Zigi, have my tax money! It’s in good hands.

Where society’s rules and norms simply don’t apply. Getting involved in the death of another human being might lead to the Hall of Fame, a broadcasting gig or maybe just another team. Drunk driving? Maybe a month suspension. Don’t sweat anything else.

Where announcers praise our military service-members, gravely reminding us that football is “just a game,” yet can’t make it ten minutes without talking about players “going to war,” “the battle in the trenches,” or “gridiron warriors.” And do it without the slightest trace of irony.

Of course, cherry-picking a bunch of individual stories isn’t especially indicative of anything. Taken together, it’s pretty clear that my title is incorrect. Maybe the NFL is the most self-aware place on Earth, and we’re all being played for suckers.

I guess I’ll keep throwing money at the NFL and hope I find out.

Prodigal Son

This was almost a triumphant story. 37.2 seconds away. Then 23.9 seconds. Then 19.4. 7.9. Then it was gone.

This was almost a story of a young man abandoning a place where he grew up. Going off to the greener pastures on the other side of the fence. Then, having a change of heart, returning to great fanfare and celebration.



90’s basketball was the best. The Admiral swatting shots away. Shaq destroying backboards. Hakeem Olajuwon’s “Dream Shake.” The Glove to the Reign Man. Mt. Mutombo’s wagging finger. Stockton and the Mailman. And of course, Air Jordan, Pip, and the Chicago Bulls.

Has any sport been as loaded with awesome nicknames?

Has any sport been as loaded with all-time greats during a decade?

Has any sport ever been so compelling? Continue reading