Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

Performance enhancing drugs and the sullied sports hero

February 22, 2013 Leave a comment

Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl Champion Ray Lewis NFL

It’s an awfully difficult time to believe in the purity of sport and fair competition.

Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are everywhere right now, to the point where widespread cheating is turning into white noise. Scandal after scandal, fallen athlete after fallen athlete, we are quickly becoming numb to the dirty dark side of sport.

There have been plenty of doping scandals in the past, but they’ve typically been one athlete or a team of athletes exposed for wrongdoing. This young year has been different. 2013 has seen single athletes, teams of athletes, even whole segments of particular sports outed as cheats.

So why is this happening now? Has technology caught up with the PED users?

Read more…


LIESTRONG: Lance Armstrong uses Oprah doping admission to direct his narrative

January 18, 2013 1 comment

Lance Armstrong Oprah Winfrey interview EPO blood doping

There was no great outpouring of emotion. No internal struggle. Evasiveness, yes, there was a ton of that, but no true guilt. Lance Armstrong’s mea culpa doping admission to Oprah Winfrey smacked of a man trying to spin things his way – not of a man begging forgiveness from the public he so wronged.

Lance Armstrong is a fraud who was swept away – so he says – by the burning need to win at all costs. It’s what drove him to beat his cancer, and what drove him to pound all opposition into the dust.

Now, it seems, it’s what’s driven him to admit his personal sins: the self-made man of myth, who wrote his legend with seven Tour de France victories, now wants to write his own downfall, before others write it for him.

Armstrong’s confession was not your typical pro athlete weeping for forgiveness at the altar of public opinion, presided over by Oprah, the Pope of secular self-help. It was a staged surrender, a calculated ceding of territory to the enemy. He gave up what we already knew, and he offered us no quivering lip, no crocodile tears, no bottled-up emotion in a play for sympathy. He was entirely in control of himself, because he wants to be in control of his story.

Indeed, Armstrong gave the definite impression that he had a mental line he was ready to go to, and not beyond. He answered some of the heaviest questions quickly and comfortably, but when it came to his role in the doping conspiracy – and the roles of others – he tied himself in knots and avoided straight answers. Anything beyond personal admissions fell under an Omertà silence.

“I was a bully,” said Armstrong. “I was a bully in the sense that I tried to control the narrative and if I didn’t like what someone said I turned on them.”

From the calm, cool way he delivered his personal admissions while at the same time protecting the names of the others involved, Armstrong gave the distinct sense that he was still trying to control the narrative.

It was also clear Armstrong wasn’t going to fully come clean. For a man who mercilessly sold out anyone and everyone he had to to keep his reputation pristine, he was mum when it came to naming names. One can’t help but suspect he is saving those names as bargaining chips in case of future legal trouble.

He dodged or conveniently forgot the individual details of how he and his teammates beat the anti-doping agents, and he remained elusive when Oprah tried to pin him with responsibility for a team culture of doping. Armstrong – who reportedly pushed EPO and other performance-enhancing drugs on his fellow cyclists – instead blamed the cycling culture itself, and admitted only that “I didn’t do anything to try to stop the culture.”

The biggest name Armstrong refused to condemn was Dr. Michele Ferrari, the perceived mad scientist behind all the doping. That, perhaps, is the get out of jail free card in Armstrong’s back pocket. He wants his cycling ban reduced so he can compete in triathlons, and Ferrari may be his ticket to do that.

Dr. Michele Ferrari blood doping doctor to Lance Armstrong

Dr. Michele Ferrari (center) has a lifetime cycling ban for anti-doping violations.

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has already said that nothing short of a confession under oath will get them to reexamine his case; spilling his guts to Oprah means nothing in their eyes.

Armstrong was particularly evasive when it came to his “donations” to the UCI, for which he professed to have no love, but to which he says he immediately bowed when they came calling for money.

Whispers say the donation was a payoff following a positive test, but Armstrong was adamant that he has never failed a blood test. “There was no positive test,” he insisted. “No paying off of the lab. The UCI did not make that go away.”

For a woman who has built her career or self-help and redemption, Oprah did her level best to hold Armstrong’s feet to the fire. She certainly hit the questions people wanted, even if she didn’t press where she should have. She took Armstrong to task for Emma O’Reilly and Besty Andreu, who are just two of the many innocents Armstrong has railroaded along the way. Armstrong pleaded ignorance on O’Reilly and begged off commenting on Andreu, saying, “I’m not going to take that on.”

Oprah pressed Armstrong on his lead role in the US Postal Service team’s doping; she confronted him with his many adamant denials from the past; she even brought up his defiant yellow jersey tweet from last November.

Lance Armstrong Yellow Jersey Tour de France house picture gloating

Lance Armstrong, gloating at home with his yellow Tour de France winner jerseys.

Lance Armstrong met each question with a clever deflection. He didn’t want to answer, and he refused to let Oprah pull anything out of him that he wasn’t prepared to give.

While this interview might have been more illuminating were it given to CNN or 60 Minutes Sports, it landed in Oprah’s lap, and she didn’t go soft on the opportunity. Her five Yes or No questions out of the gate were a great way to go for the throat, and she certainly left the rose-coloured glasses at home. She didn’t get any new surprises, but she did get the key facts out in the open.

The biggest surprise for many, after all, was the realization that the OWN Network is in their cable package.

Lance Armstrong admitted to what we all know, but he refused to surrender more than what was already obvious.

It was, at least, a marked change from 15 years of lies like the ones in the video below.

Now, Armstrong will have hordes of enemies at the gates, ready to loot the castle.

There are gilted sponsors, slandered former teammates and a parade of others who were sued into the Stone Age by Armstrong’s busy legal team. All of them were attacked for telling the truth, and punished as though they were liars. Most of them will be back, and they’ll want restitution.

The LiveStrong Foundation – the one definitively good thing to come out of Armstrong’s web of lies – will come under scrutiny.

On top of that, longtime Armstrong foe Travis Tygart of the United States Anti-Doping Agency still wants blood, and he’ll continue to investigate Armstrong’s conspiracy of helpers.

Lance Armstrong’s next hill to climb will be a financial one, and no measure of public support will boost his abilities.

He can tell his story however he wants.

The true story is going to continue to hit him in the pocketbook, even if it doesn’t hit him in the heart.

Bettman, Fehr, players and media all losers as NHL lockout comes to an end

January 6, 2013 1 comment

Gary Bettman Donald Fehr joint announcement end NHL Lockout CBA

With a farcical buddy-buddy joint announcement from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHPLA Executive Director Donald Fehr, the National Hockey League’s third lockout in 18 years has come to an end.

After months of sabre-rattling, media-baiting and gamesmanship, the NHL Players Association and the NHL have come to an agreement that saves the 2012-2013 season, but leaves the reputation of the sport in shambles. They avoided cancelling the season, but millions of dollars in revenue have been lost, and legions of fans have turned their backs on – or completely forgotten – NHL hockey.

Where the 2004-2005 lockout was sold to fans as a necessary push to establish cost certainty and league viability through a salary cap, this lockout had no singular identifiable issue for fans to understand and accept.

No issue except money, that is. The owners wanted to make more, and the players were going to have to surrender more for that to happen.

When billionaires fight with millionaires over money, it becomes extremely tough to explain it to the blue-collar paying customers.

With the NBA and NFL having established 50-50 revenue splits in their respective collective bargaining agreements one year previous, it seemed a fait accompli that the players would be surrendering their 57% share. The NHLPA’s Fehr went in from a concessionary position, so it became a game of delay tactics and dirty negotiating – a game he played very well.

Fehr proved himself to be a pro at playing head games to infuriate his league counterpart Gary Bettman into submission. He routinely showed up late to meetings. He wrote proposals on napkins and delivered them off the cuff. He repeatedly told the media “we’re close” only to have Bettman’s people refute it a few minutes later.

Fehr, a former titan of Major League Baseball union negotiations, was brought in for exactly this purpose. The NHLPA was left reeling after the 2004-2005 lockout, as then-leader Bob Goodenow was axed shortly after being circumvented by his membership to solve that lockout. Replacement Ted Saskin lasted only two years before getting gassed for hacking players’ private emails. Paul Kelly took over in 2007, but was overthrown in 2009 by various player and union advisors pressuring him out.

The players knew they’d need a strong hand for these negotiations, so they got the strongest one they could find. Fehr was their hired gun, and he did exactly what he was expected to: he battled the owners for every inch they took. Now he’ll ride off into the sunset, a one-and-done executive director who may well leave the union in the hands of his younger brother Steve.

Steve Fehr's ugly sweater NHL Lockout CBA

Steve Fehr uses Ugly Sweater negotiation tactics.

Donald Fehr’s tactics were maddening, but he seemed to keep his calm throughout the negotiations.

Not so for NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman was often seen visibly upset and frustrated these past months, as Fehr’s tactics continued to drive him to the edge. Bettman repeatedly put time limits on his offers, threatened to take things off the table, and made grand pronouncements. One of the more famous declarations of this lockout came from his lieutenant, Bill Daly, who declared that 5-year contract limits were “the hill we will die on.”

Well, the new deal allows for 8-year terms.

This 10-year deal may well be the last one negotiated under Gary Bettman. Bettman has never been popular (he gets booed at every Stanley Cup presentation) but whatever scorn the NHL players used to have for him has turned to outright hatred with this lockout.

Bettman poisoned the waters for these negotiations right away when he lowballed the players with an offered cut of just 43% of revenue. The offer only insulted and galvanized the players into a resolute union, making Bettman’s task all the more difficult going forward. The league got its way in the last lockout by letting the players destroy themselves; this time, they foolishly gave the players a reason to band together.

Bettman’s written his legacy through these lockouts, and he’s become a symbol for the labour strife that dogs the league. The league’s owners would do well to turn the page on Bettman and appoint a new face to the position.

Bettman and Fehr weren’t the only parties who looked silly in this lockout.

There’s no doubt it was often painful to watch the league and its players scrapping over money these past hundred-something days, but at times it was worse to pay attention to the media outlets covering them. The Canadian media – itself built around broadcasting hockey above all other sports – turned into a gaggle of devotees chasing the negotiations around, begging for scraps of information.

Nightly television hits said the same things for months. “Talks have broken down.” “Sources suggests there is reason for optimism.” “There are no talks scheduled.” “There were only small group meetings on non-core issues.” “They continue to debate hockey-related revenue.” Etcetera. Etcetera.

The Canadian media machine – primarily TSN and Rogers Sportsnet – had hordes of reporters at the NHL’s New York offices every time a development was possible. Reporters sat outside the various negotiation sites in New York for months on end, waiting for a quote, a tidbit, or a puff of white smoke out the chimney to announce a new deal. They were there on New Years Eve in Times Square, shoulder to shoulder with revelers, their eyes on the office building in front of them, not the 2013 ball high overhead. They fought the cold by huddling in an ATM booth to keep warm, all in anticipation of an announcement – any kind of announcement – from the principal parties.

The league and the PA twice held negotiations in a ‘secret location,’ which meant farcical TV spots of reporters wandering the streets of New York, practically peering through windows in search of Bettman and Fehr.

Sports reporters did their very best to explain matters completely outside their realm of expertise. New terms like “make whole,” “decertification” and “disclaimer of interest” became the talking points for guys used to breaking down a power play and explaining a left wing lock.

The lockout also meant nothing but bad news for players’ reputations. Idle hands, millions of dollars and Twitter don’t mix well. Just ask Ian White, Kris Versteeg or Evander Kane.

Evander Kane Winnipeg Jets Twitter money Holyfield picture

Evander Kane, enduring the NHL lockout as best he can.

This was not an ideological lockout. It was a cock fight. The players had to hang in for a full three rounds without being broken by the league, and the league was determined to ease the burden on its flawed financial model by taking what it could from the PA.

10 years from now, we may well be right back here again. If history has shown anything, it’s that the owners’ greatest enemies are themselves. They were signing players to ridiculous 13-year deals mere weeks before the lockout happened, only to turn around and demand 5-year contract lengths.

The owners will always look for ways to knife each other by going around the rules, and player agents will always find ways to offer that knife. Agents will be examining this deal for loopholes right away. Last time they came up with long-term, back-diving contracts to get around inflated cap hits. That’s been closed this time, but they’ll find something else.

The lockout is over. The damage is done. a $3 billion business will be much less in the coming years, as much of the headway the league has made in the United States is undone.

For a lockout that was all about splitting up money, there will be much less of it to share because of this childishness.

Electronic Arts NHL 13 Gary Bettman Lockout

I was getting used to only seeing hockey on the PS3.

Six great iPhone games for the simulation lover

December 27, 2012 Leave a comment

If nothing excites you more than holding a little world in the palm of your hand, then these iOS apps are right for you: each one is a cheap or free game that’s just as thrilling for the hardcore mobile gamer as for the casual iPhone user. With these apps you can conquer the world, run a successful mall or win the championship with your sports franchise – and you can do it all on your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch.

Click the icon to visit the iTunes page for each app below.

1. Plague Inc.

Plague Inc. Ndemic Creations iOS iPhone iPad iTunes Apple

It’s the holiday season and the flu is going around. Rather than popping cough drops and swilling NyQuil, take charge of the virus with Plague Inc..

Plague Inc world map virus spread Ndemic Creations iTunes

Plague Inc. is a virus simulator at its most perverse: you control the disease, spend DNA points to evolve its symptoms and control how it spreads. you can strike terror into the human race and bring the world to its knees with a whole host of vile symptoms. Nasty effects like internal hemorrhaging, dysentery and pulmonary oedema are yours to command. Spread your plague by air, water, blood, or through animal transmission. Mutate antibiotic resistance to prevent humans from developing a cure or foiling your infection techniques.

Plague Inc. is an extremely reasonable $0.99 and takes about 20 minutes to run through. Each victory unlocks new genes and new plague types.

Developer Ndemic Creations has remain active in updating and expanding Plague Inc., meaning this already spectacular game continues to receive fine-tuning updates on a regular basis.

2. Tiny Tower

iTunes Tiny Tower Nimblebit

Tiny Tower is a building management game that runs in real time. It’s simple, quick at first and extraordinarily addictive as it progresses. You run a tower where cute little pixelated people live and work, and it’s your job to build and manage the various stores in the tower.

Tiny Tower Nimblebit iTunes iPhone iPad iPod Apple iOS

You’ll move in people, give them jobs, tell them what to produce and wait while they produce it. This is easy at first, but as more expensive options open up, you’ll find yourself waiting hours, not minutes, for jobs to complete. It soon becomes a time management game, meaning it will keep you hooked on the next move you’re waiting to make.

Nimblebit’s Tiny Tower will always call you back, as there will always be a store to restock, a new item to produce, and a new shop to staff. It’s extraordinarily addictive. It’s also completely free.

3. Pocket Planes

Pocket Planes Nimblebit iTunes

Speaking of Nimblebit and real time games, Pocket Planes is Nimblebit’s latest endeavour that’s also worth a look. Pocket Planes puts you in charge of a small regional airline and challenges you to connect the world with your airplanes.

Pocket Planes map view Nimblebit iPhone iPad iTunes iOS Apple

Build planes out of aircraft parts, upgrade them and load up passengers and cargo to earn money and unlock bigger and better things. Bi-weekly worldwide tasks keep you coming back for special rewards, and hour-long flights assure you’ll be peeking in to see that all your passengers made it to their destination safely.

Like Tiny Tower, Pocket Planes is free. Nimblebit makes its money off selling bux, which are used to purchase aircraft in the game. Don’t let that put you off, though: bux are easily obtainable without paying. Money simply accelerates your progress.

Pocket Planes is a cute and fun simulator that will give you a crash course in world geography as you open airports to connect your flights and stretch your service across the globe.

4. Mega Mall Story

Kairosoft Mega Mall Story iTunes iOS

If Tiny Tower tickles your fancy, then Mega Mall Story will make you think you died and went to capitalist heaven. You manage a little strip mall and build it up into a megaplex, complete with underground levels, a subway, bus routes and a helicopter pad.

Mega Mall Story iTunes Kairosoft Apple

Court the locals with high quality stores and varied merchandise and they’ll become regulars and reward you. Invest in the surrounding community to bring in new opportunities and develop your customer base. Earn rare stores and combine shops into complementary strings to really boost your sales. Mega Mall Story is a shopping mall simulator that you’ll never want to put down.

Developer Kairosoft has got to be one of the best mobile game companies around. They’ve got a great stable of simulator games all based around a similar structure, but with enough variation and unique elements to make each game worth it in its own right. Kairosoft knows it, too: their apps are not cheap, as each one (including Mega Mall Story) will set you back $3.99.

Fortunately, the Lite version is available for free. If you enjoy Mega Mall Story, be sure to check out the other Lite offerings from Kairosoft to really get a sense of how good they’ve gotten at developing mobile games.

5. Lux Touch

Lux Touch iTunes Sillysoft Games Risk clone

If you’ve ever harbored secret delusions of world domination, or if you’ve agonized over trying to conquer Asia in the classic board game Risk, then Lux Touch is for you. It’s a Risk clone for the casual strategist, easily playable in five minutes and not nearly as graphic-intensive or statistically-reliant as the actual EA Games Risk app (which hits harder in the pocketbook and takes a good chunk out of your device’s battery life).

Lux Touch doesn’t show the dice rolls, the men or the territory names. It only keeps the important stuff, like victory cards and continent bonuses, so you’ll still want to get your hands on Asia and you may want to hole up in Australia. Lux Touch is pared right down to a basic world conquest format, and one simple rule change makes it run at breakneck speed.

Lux Touch by Sillysoft Games Risk clone on Apple iTunes

Instead of attacking only once per turn with a bundle of armies, you’re free to build up a pack of men and go on a worldwide rampage. This means that if you can secure a bonus territory early, you can build up a squad and sweep your enemies right to the brink of the ocean and push them off with the blue tide of your army.

Lux Touch is completely free and a fun way to kill a few minutes of waiting around wherever you are.

6. iOOTP Baseball 2012

iOOTP Baseball 2012 iTunes Apple

For the armchair general manager and sports fan there’s iOOTP 2012 Baseball, a fantasy sports simulator that makes you the brains of your very own baseball organization. You control the roster, coach the team, manage contracts and trade players.

iOOTP 2012 Baseball simulator fantasy sports general manager GM

Console sports games all come with a general manager mode. If you’re the kind of player who simulates through the actual games and focuses on the big picture roster moves, then iOOTP Baseball 2012 is the game for you. It takes all the fun of general manager mode and trims out the graphic-intensive gameplay to create a pure management simulator for you to play on your phone.

Best of all, you don’t need to be a baseball fan to enjoy this. The stats differ from football, basketball or hockey, but once you identify the kinds of players you need, it’s not hard to work through the statistics. Before long, you can be playing your own version of Moneyball with iOOTP Baseball 2012.

iOOTP Baseball 2012 is $1.99 on the app store, but well worth the price for anyone with sports management aspirations.

Belcher tragedy a reminder of the toll pro sport takes on the rank-and-file athlete

December 1, 2012 1 comment

Jovan Belcher Kansas City Chiefs Murder Suicide NFL Football

The specifics of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide continue to pour out, and while the broad strokes are grimly familiar, the key difference must not be forgotten: a woman was murdered, and her killer took his own life.

There are memorials and shrines and kind words now for Jovan Belcher, but his crime – and his demons – must not be swept under the rug.

Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins on Saturday, December 1. Immediately afterward, he drove to the Chiefs practice facility, thanked his coach and general manager and shot himself in the head in front of them. He leaves behind a three-month-old daughter that he had with Perkins.

There have been too many pro athlete deaths in the last year, but Belcher’s is the worst in that he is the only one to take a victim with him.

Dave Duerson. Junior Seau. Derek Boogaard. Rick Rypien. Wade Belak. And now, Jovan Belcher.

Concussions. Substance abuse. Roid rage. Painkiller addiction. Depression. One, some or all of these were factors in the deaths of the aforementioned athletes. We deify the men who wear our favourite team’s jersey, but the truth is that these are mortals just like the rest of us, and they are as flawed and weak as anyone. The only difference is that they are in the public eye, and when they fall, we see them fall. When they fall hard, we all feel it.

There’s an all-too common refrain you’ll hear in a bar whenever athletes fight over money: “Those bums make millions of dollars to play a game. I’d play in the big leagues for free!” It’s an easy statement to make from the comfort of your couch, but it totally disregards the brutality of the life these athletes lead. League owners make hundreds of millions of dollars off the pain that their players endure. Those players are absolutely entitled to money for the blood they shed. And that bloodshed is sometimes too much for an athlete to handle.

The NFL and NHL – the two hardest-hitting professional sports leagues in the world – have also been the hardest hit in terms of suicide. Some athletes, like Seau and Belak, were only a few years removed from their playing days. Others, like Boogaard and Belcher, were in their prime. None were superstars. All worked hard and took a beating for a living. They were the grinders and the muscle, the grunts and the footsoldiers. They kept their star teammates shiny, and they got dirty doing it.

Professional athletes are modern day gladiators in a bloodsport built on television ratings. Team games are the biggest draws, and teams necessarily have role players. The high skill guys are in huge demand and make the most money because they do what others can’t do.

On the other end of that spectrum are the guys who do what most players just don’t want to do. They’ve got marginal skill but they’re strong, they’re willing to dish out the punishment and – more importantly – they’re willing to take it. They don’t get paid nearly as much yet they take the most brutal attacks. In football, these are the massive linebackers who crash into equally-sized men on the other side. In hockey, these are the bare-knuckle brawlers who smash each other in the face once a night, get 5 minutes of icetime and spend the rest of the game riding the bench or stewing in the penalty box.

Linebackers crash heads. Hockey fighters take punches to the head. These men are suffering concussion after concussion, and the rest of their bodies are also suffering constant physical trauma. Their job performance is fueled by violence and aggression, and when the game is over they go home to their lives and their families.

It is, understandably, a challenging change in mindset.

Jovan Belcher with girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and daughter Zoe

Jovan Belcher with girlfriend Kasandra Perkins and daughter Zoe.

The fact is, these men surrender the happiness and health of their later years to make their living in a short window of time, and that accelerated scale is sometimes too much for a person. It can leave them ill-equipped to deal with everyday life after – and even during – their careers.

Professional athletes are sheltered and guided through their entire career. They’re told what to eat, when to sleep, what to do on the field, what city to live in, and where to be in order to catch a plane. They have agents who handle their money for them, and their only responsibility is to do what they’re told and play like they’re capable of playing.

But there are aspects of life that no one can protect them against. There’s depression. There’s the pain of injury, and the difficulty of fighting through pain. There’s the allure of painkillers and steroids to find an edge. There’s the trap of having too much money all at once, and not be able to earn in your later years. And there’s the everyday stuff – like Belcher’s newborn daughter – that each person must navigate for himself. And that’s where some athletes suffer the most.

In 2011, the hockey world was rattled by the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Rick Rypien and Wade Belak. Six-foot seven New York Ranger Boogaard had OxyContin and Percocet addictions, and they caught up with him on a night of heavy drinking in May. His brother found him dead in his bed. Rypien – a borderline NHL pugilist – killed himself on August 15, mere weeks after signing an NHL contract with the Winnipeg Jets. He suffered from depression and had been serving a lengthy suspension for an altercation with a fan in Vancouver the previous season. Only 16 days later, Wade Belak, a former heavyweight who spent most of his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Nashville Predators, hung himself in a Toronto hotel room. He, too, had been fighting depression for years, but appeared to have everything together in his post-playing career. He had done some broadcast work with the Predators and was preparing to appear on CBC’s Battle of the Blades figure skating reality show.

Wade Belak Toronto Maple Leafs with daughter

Wade Belak with his daughter at a Leafs game.

Over the coming days, there will be more investigation into the Belcher murder-suicide. Belcher didn’t have a history of concussions, unlike many of the aforementioned athletes. He was a starting linebacker with a firmly established role on his team, and he was not at the end of his career by any means. Early reports indicate he shot his girlfriend five times, and that the two were known to have been arguing in recent weeks.

Whatever demons Belcher had, they did not appear on a stats sheet. For an undrafted linebacker, they may well have appeared in a blood test.

Jovan Belcher was a professional athlete, but he wasn’t invulnerable. The man needed help, and he didn’t get it. Now an innocent woman is dead, and so is her killer.