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Hickok SportsThoughts

Sports historian and author Ralph Hickok of www.hickoksports.com sometimes meanders on about current happenings in sports and sometimes looks back in languor.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

Lady Rams? Hey, Ewes!

So it's come down to the Lady Vols, the Spartans, the Lady Bears, or the Lady Tigers.That's pretty sad.
No, I don't mean the teams or players. I mean the names.
The standard way of giving a name to a women's team is to stick the word "Lady" in front of the name of the men's teams. But trying to feminize the name for the men's team is usually a total failure, and it's often downright ludicrous.
I mean, the Lady Minutemen? Give me a break. I see a bunch of guys, led by Harvey Fierstein, sashaying toward Lexington in their petticoats. Sorry, that doesn't work. Minute Ladies is almost as bad and Minute Maids, perhaps the best alternative, is too blatantly commercial.
Then there are such other absurdities as the Lady Cavaliers, the Lady Statesmen, the Lady Lord Jeffs, and--don't think about this one for too long--the Lady Eph-men.
Perhaps the worst, or at least the silliest, of all is at the schools where the men's team is called the Rams. The Lady Rams? Personally, I prefer the Hey, Ewes!
At the many schools with animal nicknames, the female form of the name may be acceptable. Or maybe not. Tigresses isn't too terrible, nor is Lionesses, but we are trying to get away from those "ess" feminine endings, aren't we?And, if the men's team is called the Foxes, do the women really want to be the Vixens? I doubt it.
Rather than sticking with the male "Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my" method of naming teams, I'd like to see women's teams get their own names.
One possibility is to name teams after pioneers such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, or Lucretia Mott. (But not, I think, Elizabeth Arden or Martha Stewart.)
I've long admired the French for putting writers, rather than presidents or statesmen, on their currency. With that thought in mind, some teams might be named for Amy Lowell, Willa Cather, Ellen Glasgow, Toni Morrison, or even Jane Austen. (She's one of my personal favorites, by the way, and she did play baseball and cricket as a girl.)
And, of course, there are some women athletes of the past who deserve to be honored by those of the present. I think the Billie Jeans has a nice sound to it as a team name. The Wilma Rudolphs isn't so bad, either. And how about the Patty Bergs (could be a nice McDonald's tie-in there), the Alice Marbles, the Nancy Liebermans, or, simply, the Blazes (for Carol "Blaze" Blazejowski).
Unfortunately, the greatest of them all would probably have to be left out, because I don't think the "Babes" would go over too well.
You may object that such names are too long. The Nebraska Willa Cathers does have a few too many syllables, perhaps. But it's not much longer than the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and it's shorter than the Purdue Boilermakers, the UNLV Runnin' Rebels, or the Central Florida Fighting Flamingos.
It seems to me that fans and headline writers would soon shorten such names to more acceptable forms that would become immediately recognizable, and would still carry overtones of the original. For example:

Willas Edge Austens, 72-71
Billie Jeans Whip LMotts
Tonis Bow to CStantons

After all, sports fans know who the Chisox and Bosox are, and they recognize Bucs as the short form both of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. These things come in time and, in fact, usually in a rather short time.
If we go farther back in history, and even farther back to mythology, there are some good one-word names for women's teams.
For example, the Boadiceas, for the queen of the ancient Britons; the Zenobias, for the warrior queen of Palmyra; the Minervas, the Aphrodites, and the Demeters.
Or, to make the headline writers happy, some shorter ones: The Heras, the Junos, the Athenas, and the Freyas.
In short, I'm looking forward to the day when the the Boston Boadiceas and the Anaheim Heras, play for the championship in--what else?--the World Ceres.

Worlds in Collision: Ethics and NASCAR "Respect"

I'm not what you could call a fan or even a close follower of auto racing, but suddenly I find myself pondering the ethics--if that's the word--of NASCAR.The impetus came from an article by Jerry Bonkowski, who covers NASCAR for Yahoo! Sports. Here's how it began:

All too often, young drivers bring criticism upon themselves with their swagger and aloofness. Instead of wondering how they can make the sport better, many often display a "what's in it for me?" attitude.
One recent instance was the feud that began late last season at Martinsville between teammates Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman. Wallace was going for the win and Newman wasn't going to give an inch, teammate or not, which immediately drew Wallace's ire. The ill feelings lasted through the offseason.
Some critics said Newman wasn't respecting his elder or the tradition of the sport, where young drivers are supposed to be subservient to their older and more experienced counterparts. Others castigated the South Bend, Ind., native for disrespecting one of the drivers upon which NASCAR's unprecedented success was built.

That isn't very clear about exactly what happened at Martinsville Speedway, so I looked it up. It was the Subway 500 on October 24. After a caution flag, the race was restarted with seven laps to go. Jimmy Johnson was in the lead with Newman running second and Wallace third.
Wallace thought he saw a chance to pass Johnson by going high on the track, but Newman made a move into the opening, forcing Wallace back. Their cars bumped. Wallace lost ground and ended up in tenth place. Newman finished third.
As they drove along pit road after the race, Wallace deliberately slammed into Newman's car and was fined $10,000 by NASCAR.
"I just don't understand some of the young kids today in racing," Wallace said later, according to Bonkowski. "It's almost like they've got no respect for teammates or other drivers who've been here for 15 or 20 years."
Now, I do enough about NASCAR to be aware that Rusty Wallace has a reputation for shooting off his mouth, so I might not have paid much attention to that comment. But Bonkowski, an objective (at least theoretically) journalist who's covered NASCAR for something like 20 years, seems to agree with Wallace. And so, perhaps, do "some critics" of Newman.
So I guess when an older, more experienced driver tries to pass a younger driver, the unwritten NASCAR code calls for the young guy to pretend he doesn't notice and just let it happen, rather than responding as he would if it were just another young guy trying to go by.
Maybe I'm way out of whack here (that's been known to happen, unlikely though it may seem), but showing respect to another competitor in that way seems contrary to the whole idea of serious, high-level sports.
I don't believe in the win-at-all-costs attitude that can so easily lead from rule-bending to outright cheating. But I sure can't go along with this respect-at-all-costs approach, either. It seems to me that an athlete is supposed to do his or her best to win, for the sake of self, sport, and fans.
If that means "disrespecting" an antagonist who happens to be older, well, we'll just have to make the most of it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Do Not Try This at Home

Your average, run-of-the-mill, common-or-garden-variety, ho-hum, humdrum, plain vanilla, white bread kind of skier skier tries to avoid trees. Not always successfully, perhaps, but the thought is definitely there. When a tree pops up out of the snow in the skier's path, instinct and training whisper low, "Avoid it, at all costs."
But there's a relatively new sport in Norway that defies both instinct and training. It's called "tree ski jumping."
No, it's not. On second thought, it's called treski hopper. Or maybe tre ski springer. Because this is Norway we're talking about, and most of the people there speak Norwegian.
I seem to have lost my place. . . oh yes. . .
In this sport, whatever it's called, ski jumpers try to land in trees.
In case you think you didn't hear that correctly, ski jumpers try to land in trees.
The jumper who lands highest is the winner. There's also a very practical reason for landing as high in the target tree as possible: A tree trunk tends to get skinnier as it gets further from the ground.
The second annual championship was held earlier this month in the Hallingskarvet wilderness area, which is about 200 kilometres west of Oslo. Eleven skiers entered.
I haven't been able to find out who won. When I do, I'll post the winner and winning height here.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Some Day She Might Be Really Good

All of the Western world was focused on NCAA basketball over the weekend while Annika Sorenstam was demolishing the rest of the field in the Nabisco Championship. Sorenstam shot a 273, 15 under par, and won by eight strokes.
It was her 59th LPGA win, her fifth in a row, her seventh in the last nine tournaments she entered, and her eighth major championship. Sorenstam played the last 39 holes over the Dinah Shore Tournament Course at Mission Hills Country Club without a bogey and it's now been 10 months since the last time she was over par for a round.
Here's the scarey part: She doesn't think she's at her best yet.
"I feel I'm starting to reach my peak and I want to get there,'' she said after yesterday's win. "That's what keeps me going every day.''

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Time Flies, Time Warps, but Do Time Warps Fly?

The urge toward chronoplastic hyperbole seems to have become urgent and chronic among sportswriters and broadcasters.
"Shaquille O'Neal ate breakfast this morning, the first time that's happened since yesterday."
No, I haven't yet heard anyone say that, but they're coming closer and closer. The worst I've actually heard was during CBS' coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament. After Wisconsin-Milwaukee beat Boston College, someone said, "This is the first time a 12 seed has reached the sweet 16 since 2003."
Wow, 2003. . . the good ol' days, way back before last year.
Speaking of time, Wisconsin and the NCAA -- not only did two Big Ten teams knock off ACC teams last night, but they did it almost simultaneously. As soon as Wisconsin's win over North Carolina State was over, CBS cut from Syracuse to Austin, where 14 seconds remained in Michigan State's upset of Duke.
That hasn't happened since. . . oh, never mind.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Congress Discovers Steroids

Why now?
Steroids entered American sports more than 50 years ago, thanks to Russian weightlifters and Dr. John B. Ziegler.
The IOC began testing for steroids at the 1976 Olympics. Edwin Moses said in 1983 that at least 50% of America's Olympic athletes were using drugs, mostly steroids. A book entitled Death in the Locker Room: Steroids and Sports was published in 1984.
In 1988, Canada's Ben Johnson was stripped of the gold medal he'd apparently won in the 100-meter dash and the Canadian government set up a commission to investigate steroid use by athletes. Mainly because of the Johnson case, the U. S. Congress passed the Omnibus Anti-Substance Abuse Act, which created tough penalties for steroid trafficking. Two years later, the original Anabolic Steroid Control Act was passed. (That law was revised just last year.)
The NFL had already begun in-season testing of players for steroids in 1987. The league initiated random, year-round testing in 1990. The NCAA also began year-round steroid testing for football players in 1990 and added it for track and field athletes in 1992.
The July 8, 1991, issue of Sports Illustrated featured a cover story about Lyle Alzado, the former NFL defensive end who admitted having used steroids throughout his career, beginning in 1969 when he was playing for Yankton College in South Dakota. He blamed steroids for the inoperable brain cancer that led to his death in May of 1992. (It should be noted that no definite link has ever been found between steroid use and any kind of cancer.)
This is all old news, folks.
Suddenly, during spring training of 2005, the House Committee on Government Reform decided to hold hearings on the use of steroids by major league baseball players.
Why? Why now? And why the House Committee on Government Reform, of all things? Shouldn't those guys be investigating steroid use in government?
There are no bills before Congress that have anything to do with steroids, baseball, or steroids in baseball. In fact, as already noted, the Anabolic Steroid Control Act was revised less than a year ago.
So why?
Here's a hint: The same committee, led by the same folks who got at least their 15 minutes of fame by sitting in the reflected light from a handful of baseball stars, tried to intervene in the Terri Schiavo case and has now issued subpoenas for yet another bogus hearing "inspired" by that sad controversy.
I imagine it won't be long before they find a reason to subpoena Michael Jackson, maybe with his sister Janet, Liz Taylor, and Justin Timberlake, to "investigate" something or other.