As the world of sports heads to another calendar year, it is time for old curmudgeons to stand up and take stock of recent trends. Free speech doesn't just apply to millennials.
Sports is headed down several rabbit holes. The people who control things, plus those in the media who enable them, are greedy, gutless or brain dead. Lots of people in positions to do something know better but refuse to stand up. Even worse, lots of them don't know better.
A recent shocking moment triggered these thoughts. On Nov. 26 in the USC-Notre Dame game, a player scored a touchdown and turned around to hand the ball to the official. That's all he did. It was stunning, mind-blowing. There was no dancing, no group hugging that goes on and on, no slam dunking over the goal-post crossbar, no line dancing. Not even a bowling ball routine in which the scorer rolls the football and half a dozen teammates become bowling pins and fall down. (You have to admit, that one is clever.)
In the same Irish-Trojans game, USC quarterback Caleb Williams scored a touchdown and ended up striking the Heisman Trophy pose. He said there was peer pressure to do it, and he gets kudos for wanting to resist. He certainly had done enough against the Irish, and also during his injury-hampered night Saturday against Utah, to impress Heisman voters. No posing needed or wanted.
In 1967, after Travis Williams scored a touchdown for the Packers, he danced in the end zone. When he got to the sideline, Vince Lombardi told him to "act like you've been there before."
Now, we have a generation of college and pros acting like they will never get there again.
No. 2 on the curmudgeon list:
It's now bowl season in college football. To be clear, this isn't really bowl season. For everything but the final four, it is ESPN "Look At Us" season. How, after all, could we live without the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl? But ESPN's bowl glut is no longer disgusting in its excess, just unsettling - its gluttonous marketing has been criticized for years. ESPN has won. The colleges saw dollar signs and caved. Common sense and moderation be damned. All Hail ESPN.
But the new twist in this is that many players are now telling their college coaches that "they might not play" because they don't want to hurt themselves for the NFL combine camps and their potential pro careers ahead. Out the window goes the old "one-for-all, all-for-one" team thing. Now, it is "all-for-me" and "bye-bye team." Were a player to skip his team's bowl game, then tear a knee ligament in the combines, the NFL would not award the player millions of dollars based on the great career he might have had. Be careful, college kids. Three or four years of loyalty to your school should not be easily tossed aside for any expected - and likely nonexistent - NFL benevolence.
Curmudgeon's No. 3:
Baseball season is long gone but not forgotten. About every two weeks this past season, there were stories of major league pitchers being yanked while pitching a no-hitter. Clayton Kershaw was within six outs of a perfect game and sat. The Houston Astros posted the second World Series no-hitter in baseball history. Make that four Astros pitchers. Every time that happens, the mind wanders to the likely scene years ago, had the Dodgers manager walked out to the mound to ask Don Drysdale to hand him the ball with Drysdale within sight of a no-hitter. Mayhem would have ensued.
The sabermetrics guys in the glass offices call the shots now. Managers like Mike Scioscia and Dave Roberts and Joe Maddon have instincts built on years of being there and living the game. But they end up being pushed and cajoled into how to think and what to do, based little on their experience and lots on computer-generated numbers and tendencies. Now, it is all about pitch counts and saving arms for later in a career. Which translates to the almighty dollar. When a big league manager walks to the mound now, he is accompanied by computer readouts and Scott Boras.
The game and the fans suffer. Baseball is about heroics, records and stars. Who do you suppose will be best remembered for World Series pitching greatness: Don Larsen in 1956 or the Astros' foursome?
Curmudgeon's No. 4:
Little needs to be said here. UCLA and USC are going to the Big Ten. Has everybody gone nuts? If there ever was a blatant money grab with little thought to the well-being of the athletes, this is it. Pregame newspaper stories can report on point spreads, over-unders and sleep deprivation.
Curmudgeon's No. 5:
Legal sports gambling has arrived on the national scene and eventually will be in California. Las Vegas needs to open a betting line right now on which athlete will be indicted first on point-shaving. Major league general managers can help by generating projection sheets on their computers.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.