The Curious State of Sports Broadcasting

Gregorio Petit

The state of sports broadcasting is bizarre. I’m speaking especially now about regional sports networks (RSNs) but it’s more general than that.

For example, the NFL is a mess. True, by putting up an antenna, you can generally watch two games Sunday afternoon and one game Sunday night. If you get cable or a live TV streaming service, you can also watch Monday Night Football on ESPN. But Thursday Night Football? You now need Amazon Prime for that.

And unlike MLB or NBA, there is no league pass to allow you to watch whatever games you want (with limitations). True, the NFL offers such a service — but not to people in the United States! Those people are stuck with NFL+, which allows viewers to watch local and primetime games — but only on their phones and tablets.

About RSNs

But overall, the NFL is very nationwide in nature. MLB, NBA, NFL, MLS are all the opposite. They each (in different ways) allow fans to watch out-of-market games via specific services. For example, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I can sign up for NBA League Pass and stream any game I like as long as it does not involve my local team, the Golden State Warriors.

The problem is that most people are primarily interested in their local teams. Just watch the local news and you’ll see! So if you want to watch your local team, you need to subscribe to a special kind of channel: a regional sports network, or RSN.

RSNs exist primarily to air particular local teams. For example, Bally Sports West exists primarily to air Los Angeles Angels (MLB) and Los Angeles Kings (NHL) games. If you live in Los Angeles, you simply must get this particular channel to watch 150+ Angels games and 70+ Kings games. And it ain’t cheap. Currently, your only online option is DIRECTV STREAM, which will cost you $89.99/mo.


But why is this? Why should local fans have fewer, more expensive, options than fans far away? History. It all comes down to the idea of a blackout. Originally, teams didn’t want their games broadcast locally because then people wouldn’t come out to the ballpark.

This doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Even in the MLB, roughly half the money teams make is from TV contracts — and more is from local channels (RSNs) than national channels. But even if that were different, that would just be a reason to get rid of the RSN contracts themselves.

(Note: many RSNs are owned by the teams themselves. But Bally Sports is still dominant with 19 different channels. Why the Angels and Kings haven’t gotten together to put their own channel together, I can’t say. But the Angeles do own a quarter of the current RSN.)

Location Location Location

Most RSNs have coverage areas that at least make sense. Bally Sports Arizona, for example, covers all of Arizona and some parts of New Mexico.

But consider fans in Hawaii. There are really not in the Angels’ broadcast area in any real sense. But there are from an accounting standpoint. In fact, viewers in Hawaii get access to all seven of the California RSNs. So Hawaii is parts of San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco!

RSNs Are Small

But as much as I’d love to see there be a simple system for fans to watch games, I’m largely in favor of the RSNs. I hate to see behemoths like Bally Sports but the truth is, each individual channel is pretty small.

And they show all the signs of that. HotDog noted that Bally Sports West has had 7 different names in its lifetime — including Fox Sports West twice! And it’s been owned by three different companies.

Bad for Fans

There is no doubt that it’s all bad for fans. You shouldn’t need a treasure map to be a Lakers fan. And there is no direct reason to keep the system as it is since it mostly just rewards those who already have power in the system.

The problem is that if we changed the system, that would just give more power to the already unreasonably powerful leagues. And I’m not keen on that.

Much better to check out less popular sports. Over the last year, I’ve really become a fan of softball. It’s way more fun to watch than baseball!

Image cropped from Gregorio Petit by EricEnfermero under CC BY-SA 4.0.

Bullies Are Never The Adults In The Room: The Fall of Deadspin

Deadspin Logo

Recently, a “private equity firm” (read: rich guys with money) bought most of the Gizmodo Media Group. That company includes several sites which aren’t hugely read, and several that are — such as The Onion, Jezebel, The Root, and Deadspin.

I assume everyone knows what The Onion is. Jezebel is a feminist website. The Root is an online magazine co-founded by Henry Louis Gates Jr, which focuses on African-American politics and culture. (It’s often surprisingly funny, even when dealing with instances of dumb racism that infuriate the writers.) Deadspin is about sports, so I’ve cited it often in my baseball-related writing.

History of Deadspin

The thing about Deadspin is that it was founded primarily for writers to make snarky remarks criticizing the fawning coverage of successful teams and athletes often featured on ESPN.

Over the years, it maintained the snarky tone but branched out to include skeezy team owners and politicians (and even annoying holiday catalogs) among its targets. The great Neil deMause, our nation’s top writer on terrible taxpayer-funded stadium deals, often wrote there.

Drew Magary, a former commenter on the site, eventually became an editor. He made the absolutely true observation that when readers say “just stick to sports” they don’t really mean it. What they mean is “don’t cover sports with” things some readers don’t want to know about, such as players who make statements against racism or war or shabby college athletic pay. (They’re fine with F-15s flying over the Super Bowl, and stories of players who saved kittens.)

Deadspin would cover “edgy” political sports stories, usually with a left-of-center attitude, and made quite a bit of money doing so.

The Beginning of the End

Enter the new owners — a group of old men who’d run almost every publication they’d ever been in charge of into the ground. (Well, except Forbes. Rich people will always like their Forbes.)

They started off by hiring their buddies, ignoring internal candidates, and several female staff complained about a particularly rude, dismissive tone. The first thing they did was tell all the writers they were expected to generate Moar Page Views[1], which is the besetting nightmare of anyone who puts thought and energy into their writing (yes, even jokes about sports take thought and energy).

Then they made it clear that this political nonsense was going to stop. Deadspin was going to be a series of click-through articles with virtually no content to distract readers beyond increasingly loud, pushy ads. The staff, naturally, fought back on this, arguing that the site was successful precisely because it drew an audience bored by what most dumb sports sites were churning out.

That’s when heads began to roll. First, Megan Greenwell, the editor-in-chief, left. Next, the deputy editor was fired, after refusing to “stick to sports.” One day later, in a truly brilliant move, the senior writers all posted non-sports, fully political articles each tagged “stick to sports” — then quit. Drew Magary quit the following day (the site’s masthead still features a direct link to his archived articles).

What you’re left with as a company might very well remain profitable, but it’s no longer any place anybody wants to work.

Jerk Boss Behavior

Similar complaints about editorial interference and overbearing new management prickiness have been made by editorial and writing staff at all of Gizmodo Media’s other websites, although none with an exodus so large as Deadspin‘s. Some former writers have noted, correctly, that this is exactly normal when private equity firms take over, well, anything (be it a successful website or struggling retail company).

But the most fascinating observation came from Deadspin‘s first high-profile escapee, aforementioned editor-in-chief Megan Greenwell, in her essay called “The Adults In The Room”:

The beginning of the end of my time here came when Spanfeller, my boss’s boss, threw a tantrum in an email to the entire company over a story our staff was reporting on his hiring practices, management style, and threats to editorial independence. He accused us of biased journalism based on the fact that we had sent an early draft to our media lawyer, which is standard journalistic practice. He accused me and a 26-year-old reporter who works for me — a wildly talented reporter who has as much integrity as anyone I’ve ever worked with — of trying to “shame and discredit others in our community” by reporting a story. When another colleague suggested in an all-staff meeting that his email was itself an attempt to publicly shame and discredit his employees, he doubled down, saying he is a transparent guy who says what he thinks…

After I submitted my resignation, explaining that the ongoing undermining from my bosses made it impossible for me to continue to succeed in my job, and that I believed I was putting my staff at risk by staying, the CEO threw a tinier tantrum. When I passed Spanfeller in the office a week after I put in notice, he let out a cruel barking laugh, as if he was disgusted to be in my presence. I said “you can speak to me, you know,” and he responded in a tone familiar to anyone who was ever bullied in middle school. “I don’t want to,” he sneered.

Greenwell’s point, of course, was that this sort of management style is common among those who consider themselves to be the hard-nosed realists, the grownups, the adults in the room. And that as a result, it drives talented people away. What you’re left with as a company might very well remain profitable, but it’s no longer any place anybody wants to work. (Sociopathic environments like Enron and the Trump White House have shown a spectacular propensity to ruin all they touch.)

That office interaction she describes also reminds me of a line from the show Deadwood: “Can’t shut up. Every bully I’ve ever met can’t shut his fuckin’ mouth.”[2]

Why Can’t Bullies Ever Shut Up?

The bully, by definition, always has to have the last word. Because anything else means admitting, or at least allowing others to believe, that you realize your behavior was wrong.

Now, are bullies the only ones who do this? Heavens, no. We’ve all done it in arguments with romantic partners, family members, online commenters, insurance company phone reps, whatever, when we felt we were in the right. Most of us, though, will eventually realize we’ve taken an argument too far and agree to disagree, retire to separate corners, drop the argument altogether — apologize if we really feel crummy about the whole thing.

A true bully will always have the last word. Even if they apologized before, they’ll nurture and nourish their interior anger at having had to do so, and take the first opportunity to resume the argument (if not with the individual in question, then anyone who seems an appropriate abuse double).

A true bully never really regrets behaving the way they do; they consider it their right as the more powerful person.

Most of the writers who quit are enormously talented and probably will have no difficulties finding new employment.

Why Are Many People In Power Some Degree Of Bully?

Orwell once stated that every bully is also a coward. I’m sure there is some truth to this. Any child services professional knows that bullies are often children who come from abusive homes. So do behavioral psychologists who study serial killers. That sort of bully might have a twisted manifestation of the impostor syndrome, where someone who has power over others constantly fears being found out as a fraud.

Some bullies, however, show no signs of ever having been mistreated in their lives. And that’s the kind I think those new Gizmodo Media owners are. They don’t fear being exposed for the frauds, or jerks, that they are. In fact, they assume such a thing will never happen. Not to them.

Power corrupts, as the saying goes, and if that’s not innate to human behavior it is certainly innate to our current form of capitalism. Everyone under capitalism is ranked by their status, in ways both big (investment portfolio size) and small (an office worker at an ad firm is considered “cooler” than a garbage hauler who makes more money).

A great many people who demean others because they have a higher status under capitalism are Orwellian coward-bullies; they’ll be rank suck-ups to those above them and full-on buttholes to anyone beneath. (As another saying goes, “shit rolls downhill.”)

Not the ones at our very top, though. Not the ones who know that no decision they make will ever harm their lives in any serious way. The super-rich almost never become poor — and only go to jail when they present a problem to the other super-rich. Since they have no need to fear any repercussions for their actions, why not be a rude jerk “who says what he thinks,” if you like? If it makes you feel really, really badass.

The Ultimate Fate Of Deadspin

Most of the writers who quit are enormously talented and probably will have no difficulties finding new employment. Craig Calcaterra at NBC Sports’s Hardball Talk does something very similar with his sportswriting. There’s lots of places a clever writer can go if they don’t want to write sports on the internet anymore. (One does need a solid resume for this, however.)

Could the site itself come back in some sort of different form? Ari Paul at Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) thinks there may be, if writers band together to form some kind of employee-owned website. Paul admits such a venture would require considerable risk with very little early reward, yet suggests that “for independent media to survive… we’re at a breaking point, so it’s necessary.”

How about the site itself? No doubt it will continue in some sort of fashion, as it currently does, but I suspect it will never draw such a loyal following again. Especially not if the new owners continue amping up intrusive ad placements. Fans of witty sports/politics coverage can find other places to go, especially on podcasts and the like.

My guess is Deadspin‘s most consistent readers — you know, the ones advertisers like best — will drift away if they already haven’t fled in disgust. (God help these new owners if they push The Root‘s staff into mass escapage.)

Will it hurt the private equity investors at all? They might make less profit than they expected, but they’ll be fine. Even if they do take a loss, they’ll certainly blame someone besides themselves. Not every spoiled brat grows up to be a bully, but every rich bully is a spoiled brat.

[1] “Moar” is apparently who high young-people spell “more” online. Who am I to stand in the way? -FM

[2] The full quote is, “Can’t shut up! Every bully I ever met can’t shut his fuckin’ mouth. Except when he’s afraid.” It is said by Seth Bullock to George Heart in the final film.

Deadspin Logo by Deadspin – Univision, Public Domain.

A World Series Worth Noting

Washington Nationals

The World Series is over and for once I cared. Really! Admittedly, it had nothing to do with baseball. It was all about my love of symmetry. Let me explain.

Early Sunday morning, I was forced to evacuate my home because of the Kincade Fire. And it was a bit scary. When I first left, the fire was 16 miles away. Within 24 hours, it made a bee-line toward me — ending up only 5 miles away.

Having nowhere else to go, I went to stay at my sister’s place down in Millbrae. That meant spending quite a lot of time with her husband, Harold. And that led me to watch game 6 of the World Series.

A Pattern in the Making

At one point, I realized something. I asked Harold, “So if the Nationals win tonight, does that mean that the home team has lost every game in this series?” He seemed vaguely impressed that I noticed that and told me it was so and that it had never happened before.

And sure enough, the Washington National won. So the first two games were at Houston and Washington won them. There was even some speculation that they might sweep the series. But during the next three games in Washington, Houston won each time. In fact, the Nationals looked pathetic. They managed to score only one run each game, while the Astros won with 4, 8, and 7.

The obvious outcome of the next game back at Houston was for Washington to lose badly. But instead, Washington won easily, 7-2. In fact, Houston didn’t score a run after the first inning.

So even though I made it back home today and so did not have to watch the last game of the World Series, I did. You see: life is constantly disappointing. It is unpleasant and chaotic. But here was an opportunity for a little clarity — perfection, in fact. This was seven isolated games during which the team with the home-field advantage lost each time. Six out of seven was no good. It had to be seven.

And it was.

Some Pointless Math

If the outcome of these games were random, then this seven-game streak would happen less than one time out of a hundred. But the home team in MLB wins 54 percent of the time. If we assume that this distribution is random, the number falls to 0.4 percent.

But I don’t think this is simply a statistical fluke. I suspect it is some form of mass psychology. I don’t have any proof, course; but I’ve seen this thing too many times.

Or maybe it is just the normal human tendency to find patterns where none exist. That combined with my own idiosyncratic love of odd patterns. Regardless, this was a very good World Series.

After the fire, it’s nice to have a little clarity in the universe.

Trea Turner by Lorie Shaull. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. Cropped.

The Olympics Is Everything That Makes Us Bad

Michael PhelpsAfter the Olympics were over, some commentator came on the television screen and did this big feel-good speech about what the world had just watched was a super-duper example of humanity at its best. This was all the best athletes of the world coming together to compete. It showed people trying to do their best and all getting along. Oh joy!

I watched almost none of the Olympics largely because I already knew what this guy would go on to say was the absolute opposite of reality. The Olympics demonstrate the worst of what we are and what make us, as a species incredibly dangerous.

This is not going to be an exhaustive discussion of the problems with the Olympics. For that, you would need a book. But really, this isn’t complicated: the Olympics are a nationalistic display featuring competitions meant to show which country is “best.” You would think that after the 1936 Nazi Olympic Games, people would have given up on the idea that the whole spectacle was above politics or a representation of what is best in humanity. But they don’t. The Olympics start with each country marching into the stadium wearing their colors and waving their flags. Could there be anything more nationalistic?

Sure, they aren’t carrying guns and shooting each other. But that’s just because the Olympics are like Christmas dinner: everyone is on their best behavior. The opening ceremonies are a perfect display of what leads to war.

There Is No Real Individualism in the Olympics

And they show that the games have nothing to do with the individuals. If you know the name of an Olympic athlete, it is almost certain that the athlete is from your country. And all through the event, we are kept abreast of the “medal totals.” How many gold, silver, and bronze medals were won by each country. Sure, we got a running total of Michael Phelps’ metals in 2008, but I assure you, Russian television wasn’t doing the same thing.

But yes, a big deal will be made of individuals who win a lot of metals. Yes, if you are an American, you know who Michael Phelps is. But have you ever heard of Larisa Latynina? Most likely if you lived in the Soviet Union or come from the Ukraine, you know who she is. She’s the woman with the most Olympic medals, in a sport I consider much harder: gymnastics. Swimming is probably the easiest sport to dominate in metals because it’s there is so much of the same thing. You have 100 m freestyle, the 200 m freestyle, the 400 m freestyle. And that’s to say nothing of the corresponding relay races.

No one will ever win metals in both the 100 m dash and the marathon. They are completely different. They even require completely different body types to excel at. And why are there so many dull-as-dishwater swimming events? Because the US has a huge amount of power on the Olympic committee and the US dominates in swimming.

What’s more, the differences between the athletes are generally pathetically small. In 2008, Phelps won the 100 m butterfly by 0.01 seconds. A change in lane position could have given Phelps the silver metal in the 100 m butterfly. And in 2016, he lost by a quarter of a second and shared silver with two other men. Personally, I don’t see how people can get excited by a sport where they can’t even tell who won.

I’m not saying any of this to put down Phelps. He’s an amazing athlete — just like all the other Olympic athletes and hundreds of thousands of others who never make it to the Olympics. But my point is that we make a big deal of him because he’s our boy. In as much as there is individualism in the Olympics, it is all done in the name of nationalism. People who get excited by Michael Phelps are no different than the idiot frat boys who were chanting “We’re Number One!” after we killed Osama bin Laden.

Competing Against Others Is Bad

One of the worst characteristics of humans is their desire to “beat” others. I’ve never had that compunction, yet in my way, I’m very competitive. But I compete with myself. I love learning new things — mastering them. But being better at something than someone else just isn’t interesting to me. Yet a lot of people live for it. And it turns out these people are overwhelmingly conservative politically.[1] And it is no surprise why. Wanting to beat the next best person by a hundredth of a second in the 100 m butterfly is really no different than wanting your country to have the most powerful military so it can tell all the other countries how they should live.

When I played chess, I was always amazed at how much winning mattered to other people. It was a game. I really didn’t care. All I cared about was improving. And as a result, although I lost a lot of games, I improved and most of the people I played against didn’t. I watched as players went from a point where I could never beat them to a point where I so dominated them that they weren’t worth playing. And they never got it because winning was all that mattered to them.

Life Is About Self Improvement

Winning is a game for kids. Adults should work on improving as a person. If you try to improve yourself, you are lucky because it will make you happy (well, happier). If everyone were like that, we would have a better world than the one we have now where everyone is encouraged to be “the best.” As it is, outside of measured sports (eg, running and jumping) there really is no “best.” After you get past a certain level on the violin, it is a matter of taste. And in that case, it’s a very small number of people who can tell the difference between an excellent college violinist and Itzhak Perlman.[2]

If people aren’t primarily involved in improving themselves (in all ways, including humility — something I need to work on more), you are simply left with nothing important. There is nothing that matters as much as the things you choose to spend your time on. Winning a gold metal really is pointless; but if you love swimming, getting to that level of ability is.

Above All, the Olympics Doesn’t Matter to the World

The Olympics are an opportunity for countries to show off. This is why they fight on the Olympic committee as to just which sports will be included. This makes the games all the more nationalistic. But if people like them, fine. But never mistake the Olympics for a gauge of which country is best. The best countries are the ones that see their people taken care off. It’s fine if people are great athletes. But they aren’t what makes us great. The Olympics aren’t important and are probably bad for us.

Afterword: Alfie Kohn on Education and Competition

This is a great lecture by Alfie Kohn. (By the way, what he does at the beginning — having people break up into small groups to solve a problem is how I taught physics. Imagine if your math teachers had done that with your classes.) He talks about how turning any activity into a competition makes the individual results worse. He’s talking primarily about education, but it fits so well with what I talked about in this article that I had to share. It’s possible that the best runners would be faster if they only ever ran alone for the purpose of their own improvement.

He also talks about a way of changing musical chairs so it isn’t competitive and ends up being much more fun for all involved.

People who have read me for a long time know that I greatly admire Kohn. And if you extrapolate his work to economics, you also see that capitalism really is a failure and how we can move on to something better.

[1] Phelps has never made a political statement so far as I know. I suspect he is kind of liberalish but mostly non-political. The reason I think he tilts a bit left is because he admits that he got lucky and it isn’t all his personal will and hard work that made him so successful. (Although really, I’d love to sit down and talk to him about the fact that there are way too many swimming events in the Olympics.)

[2] I might pick the college student anyway. I’ve always found Itzhak Perlman too flashy. I wish he would stick more closely to the music as written. But then, I’m the guy who doesn’t really like Romantic Period music. And I’m not questioning that Perlman is an annoyingly great player. I would still jump at the opportunity to hear him live.

Ice Dancing and Trying to Stay Awake

Ice DancingSo I was cooking dinner and forced to watch ski jumping, which I at least consider a sport. And then came on the ice dancing. And I’ll admit, I had been drinking. But I don’t think anyone should criticize me for metaphorically vomiting. It wasn’t on the screen. I admire what they were doing. But was it sport? No, not at all. It was beautiful in the way that a clarinet concerto is beautiful; but it was not sport.

These are amazing performers! But they were not athletes. To my mind, they were so much more. But atheletes? No! Atheletes are something different, and far less edifying. I want to talk to them. I want to know how they take just an activity and turn it into art. I want to know how they push away all the pretense and show us art.

Most of all, I want to know how they move so fluidly.

From Skill to Art

I want to know how they transform what is nothing more than skill into art. Because that is what they do. On the biggest of stages, they transform what is nothing more than technical moves and turn them into art.

How can it be?! They take what the proles think of as nothing but technique and create art.

Maybe they don’t even know. Maybe art is just craft turned into art without them even realizing it. How triumphant for the artists?! How wholly disreputable for the viewers who can see nothing but technique — those who miss the art.

Transcendiing Art

They are so focused on technique that they don’t even think of art. And so they think of what they need. They need only technique. It’s the one thing that the Olympics require. And this is why the Olympics is not worth watching.

Random Ramblings On Sports Fandom

SportsIt’s that magical time of year when Minnesota’s city park employees turn tennis courts and baseball diamonds into hockey rinks.

How do they perform this amazing transubstantiation? (H/T: Catholicism!) Well, there are several complicated steps. I shall endeavor to describe them as best I can.

  1. Remove tennis net or baseball bases. Put in storage.
  2. Get fire hose. Attach to fire hydrant.
  3. Spray court or field with water.
  4. Wait a day.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 as necessary.
  6. Get hockey goals out of storage. Place in park. Number of goals depends on size of park; however, number must be divisible by 2.
  7. Empty park trash cans weekly.

How to Make Friends Through Sports

I am from Oregon, originally. So I grew up playing baseball, basketball, and football. Hockey? Not so much.

When I was about to move here, I stopped at Powell’s Books, a wonderful store in Portland. I found a book titled “50 Ways To Make Friends In Your New City” (or something like that).

I am terrible at making friends (largely because I don’t trust humans, which is a prejudice, but not an unjustified one). So I picked up and read the book. In Powell’s, it’s completely acceptable to grab a book, sit at the cafe, have coffee, and read the whole book. Pay for your coffee. And put the book back where you found it. These are the rules.

The book had lots of advice I couldn’t use. “Join a local church.” That’s a fine notion for some, not really my speed. “Change your political views.” For example, if you’re moving to Houston, become a Republican; if you’re moving to Seattle, become a Democrat. Well, I’d rather join a church than switch my party loyalty. My cultural background is quite mixed: Québécois, Irish, English Catholic, and some Native American. All have different traditions. One thing they have in common: they don’t switch political sides. That’s a no-go.

But this was a piece of advice I liked, “Root for the home team.” Yes! I can do that! And I did.

Minnesota Sports Are Cool

I had many fun evenings cheering along with Minnesota sports fans, in stadiums and bars. The Twins were quite good for a long while, and rekindled my childhood love of baseball. The Timberwolves are never good, but it’s kind of a shared misery thing.

Even the Vikings were fun. At least they were until I heard one too many fans complaining about “Culpepper & Moss”: a quarterback and wide receiver “team.” Daunte Culpepper, the quarterback, had a crazy strong arm. Randy Moss, the receiver, had the eyes of a wary small mammal. They’d glower out from under his facemask. He had a bizarrely balletic mid-air grace.


Imagine a clever chipmunk watching two dogs snarl at each other over some piece of meat. As they pace around and bristle their fur, our chipmunk friend dashes in, grabs half the meat, and disappears up into its tree before the dogs know what hit ’em. The dogs, furious, bark like mad. Tough luck, guys! Dogs can’t climb trees!

This was Culpepper-to-Moss. It was, as one writer put it, the pro football equivalent of every kid’s favorite football play drawn up with sticks in dirt, “You go long, and I’ll hit you.” The skinny kid runs as fast as he can. The quarterback throws a bomb. The skinny kid jumps in the air, and, even if about to get tackled by three guys around him, he corrals the ball with one hand and cradles it to his body.

This happened almost every Vikings game! And it was fantastic! But Vikings fans started complaining about “Culpepper & Moss.” I didn’t get why, at first. Then I did: they were both black. Football fans are pretty damn racist. So I stopped watching football.

(The Vikings also gave me one of my favorite sports memories. Another receiver, Cris Carter, had a contact lens pop out. As Carter was one of the football’s most respected players, referees paused the game. For two full minutes, giant behemoths from both teams were crawling around, looking in the turf for a contact lens. This was a wonderful thing to watch.)

But Not Hockey

I’ve enjoyed the Minnesota Wild, too. Or enjoyed other people enjoying them. Because, honestly, I don’t “get” hockey.

Not that I don’t appreciate the sport! It’s full of skill, drama, tension. Players do amazing things while skating at high speeds — even while skating backwards!

(My favorite hockey players are the goalies. People are hurtling a harmful projectile at you. Your job is to go “No! I can’t be hurt! Stop, projectile, stop!” For similar reasons, my favorite baseball players are catchers.)

However, I don’t “get” hockey: for the same reason anyone “gets” anything, whether it be a religion or cuisine or whatever. I didn’t grow up playing hockey! If you fire-hose-spray a city park in Oregon, you have a muddy park. In Minnesota, in winter, you have a hockey rink. So everyone plays hockey. That’s one subject in the fine Pixar film, Inside Out, directed by Minnesotan Pete Docter.

I don’t ice skate, and never will. I’m not training for any hobby which includes, as a practice requirement, “falling down repeatedly.” Fallen on ice lately? It’s very hard. It kills people! No ice skating for me. So I’ll never “get” hockey. (Or sadly, curling, which is much more up my alley, but still requires ice skating.)

Other Ways To Enjoy Sports

I used to work helping take care of disabled adults, and there was one guy I’d bring to Twins games. The guy didn’t talk and didn’t sign ASL. It was virtually impossible to communicate with him. He’d allow you to help him with some things, resist other attempts to help, that’s pretty much all the feedback you’d get.

He’d agree to let you load his wheelchair in the van for a Twins game. I don’t know why. With people who don’t talk or sign, I’d still talked to them. My reasoning was that it doesn’t take any effort to do so, and I have no clue what they’re picking up on the other end. It may be pure syllabic gibberish. They might understand every word. Or something in between. If they want me to stop talking, they can push me away.

So we’d go to Twins games, and who knows if this guy actually liked baseball. But there was one thing he clearly liked. (Keep in mind, this guy had a grumpy expression 99% of the time.)

If the Twins scored — and the crowd went wild — this guy would crane his neck around, look at all the cheering people, and start laughing. Belly laughing. He didn’t make laugh sounds, because he didn’t make sounds, but his chest would heave and his mouth would smile and tears pour from the corners of his eyes.

I suspect, though I do not know, that he found sports fans hilariously ridiculous. As, indeed, we are.

Nothing At The End

Now’s when I’m supposed to wrap this all up and make it come together, right? Nope. That’s for real writers. I’m posting on a blog!

There’s a local minor-league baseball team, the St Paul Saints. Yes, uninspired name, but they have a long history of inspired promotional gimmicks. At one, Mascot Night, there was a mascot from a pre-employment screening clinic. The mascot was a pee cup. Cup-shaped, yellow on the lower half. This was one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever seen.

Some years, the Saints do Atheists Night. It has various skits in-between innings. One had two random fans racing around the foul territory, with obstacles to overcome. As they raced, the PA announcer described what symbolic meaning each obstacle represented. Such as, for a mudslide, “it’s the primordial ooze!”

When one was first to the finish line, our PA announcer said, “The winner gets…” and froze. For 15 seconds. Then intoned, “What?! Did you think there was a reward at the end? It’s an atheist race! There’s nothing at the end!”

Nothing at the end here either, I’m afraid. Enjoy sports if that brings you closer to others. Remember, they are a bit silly. (But most hobbies are. Nothing wrong with that!)

Skate in the park if you live in a frozen place — if your home is warmer, enjoy it being not so damned cold. And have the merriest New Year you can.

Solving Sudoku Puzzles the Easy Way

Sudoku MeaningI think of myself as someone who likes Sudoku puzzles. But that’s not really true. I never sit at home solving these puzzles. Instead, I do them when I am somewhere else where I don’t have the ability to concentrate on anything. I can solve a Sudoku puzzle 5 seconds at a time. Compare that with reading a newspaper, which I can’t do at that level of interruption. I probably shouldn’t say it, but if I’m doing Sudoku around you, it doesn’t speak well of my keenness to be around at that moment. And this may explain why I don’t do really hard puzzles.

Most Sudoku puzzles can be done purely deductively. That is to say that simply by looking at the numbers, you can directly deduce what some empty boxes must be. When I first started solving these puzzles, I found that there were harder puzzles where only a couple of empty cells could be filled in. Eventually, people learn that they can solve these puzzles by going one or two steps deep: since these cells can’t contain the number 5, that means these other cells must contain the number 5, and that means some other cell must be the number 3 — or whatever. That might sound complex, but it’s really very easy.

Difficult Sudoku Puzzles

Where things get difficult is where you really have no choice but to guess. Once you guess, you move forward deductively until you uncover an inconsistency or you finish the puzzle. Of course, most of the time, it is worse than that. After making a guess and trying one path, you may be forced to make a guess on that path — and maybe one after that. This is a complete pain. But there is an obvious way to use this method. Start doing the puzzle with a pen and then switch to a pencil for your first guess.

Now if you are lucky and your guess is wrong, you can then erase everything and fill in the non-guess with pen. Then you can continue on from there. But what about if you run into double or triple guesses? Colored pencils? They don’t erase well. And I don’t keep any around anyway. I only use pens. But I came upon a simple computer solution the other day, that works really well.

An Easy Solution

I was reading, Sudoku Meaning on Labor Day 2016. For that article, I used an unsolved Sudoku puzzle for the image. It occurred to me that I really should have solved it (it’s a very easy one). So I brought the image into Paint.NET. I added a layer and entered the solution in red. A thought occurred to me: if I needed to do any guessing, I could just create another image layer and change the ink color (though it is not strictly necessary).

Of course, I will never do this. I don’t have a computer in front of me when I am playing Sudoku. But if I ever decide to tackle the “Beware! Very Challenging” puzzles in Will Shortz’s The Little Black Book of Sudoku, that may be the way to go. And yes: of course the book was a Christmas gift. I would never buy such a book for myself.


Note: I’m sure there are programs written just to help people solve Sudoku puzzles. Of course, I could just write a program that simply solved Sudoku puzzles. It’s a question of how much help you want to get.

Who Killed the USFL? Donald Trump

United States Football League - USFL

When I recently read David Cay Johnston’s excellent new book, The Making of Donald Trump, I learned about his involvement in the United States Football League or, as it is normally referred to, the USFL. I did know that Trump had something to do with the league, but not much else. I did not know that he was likely the single biggest reason for the failure of the league.

According to Johnston, the USFL was formed largely to appeal to the vanity of rich men. It was a way for rich men who weren’t rich enough to buy into the NFL to have their own professional football teams. But that doesn’t mean that the project itself wasn’t financially viable. The USFL was set up to play in the spring. It didn’t directly compete with the NFL. So for people who just couldn’t get enough football, it was there. Also, ticket prices were cheaper, so that was good. Games averaged about 25,000 people in attendance in the first year. That’s shockingly good.

What’s more, the league was formed at roughly the same time as ESPN. So they were able to get television contracts worth millions. There seems to me no doubt that had the USFL taken things slowly as it was originally conceived, it would either now be huge or have merged with the NFL. Instead, the league existed for only three seasons.

This is shocking given that the first season had been so good and the future looked so bright at that point. There was just one problem: Donald Trump bought one of the teams, the New Jersey Generals, after the first season. It’s amazing to me that so many people think Trump is good at business. As most people around here know: I don’t think that much of supposed business acumen in general. I think there really are only two things: competent management (which can easily be learned) and dumb luck. Trump has none of former.

Trump started his ownership as you might imagine. He immediately crushed the salary cap. He wasn’t the first to cross it but he really accelerated it, making what should have been a conservative business (at that point anyway) into a high risk gambit. At first, this helped attendance. And certainly having Trump around didn’t hurt the profile of the USFL. But by the third season, some teams were losing money.

This provided a great opportunity for Trump. You see, he wasn’t interested in the USFL. He later claimed that it would always have been “small potatoes.” He appears to have only been interested in using it to get into the NFL. So he convinced a number of team owners to sue the NFL. They claimed that the USFL wanted to play in the fall and that they couldn’t because the NFL had them frozen out because it had a lock on all the television contracts.

So they were making an antitrust case against the NFL. And they won! The jury claimed that the NFL did indeed have a monopoly. And they awarded the USFL $1 in damages. That’s not a typo. Apparently, the jury wasn’t too happy about the case. And when the USFL appealed the award, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld it and indicated that it knew the case was just a cheap attempt to use the courts to get into the NFL without having to earn it.

Note: such an antitrust case might have worked after 10 or 15 years when the USFL was bringing in 60,000 in attendance. But this was a case where the league had just started. As it was, attendance went up in the second season, but it was back down to where it started in the third season. So there is the answer to question in the headline: Donald Trump killed the USFL.

USFL image taken from Wikipedia. Licensed under Fair Use.

Stunning Petulance from Minneapolis Police Officers

Lynx forward Maya Moore - Minneapolis PoliceOn Monday night, four off-duty Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers were moonlighting as security personnel for the Lynx WNBA game at Target Center.

The officers wore their Minneapolis Police Department uniforms while working the security job (as permitted by the department).

And in an act of stunning petulance, all four walked off the security job because Lynx players wore t-shirts like the one Lynx forward Maya Moore is wearing in the photo on the left.

On the back of these shirts are the names of Philando Castile, killed by police in Minnesota last week, and Alton Sterling, killed by police in Louisiana. And beneath the names is a Dallas Police department emblem — remembering the five officers killed by a sniper in Texas.

Not Just Shirts

The MPD officers were reportedly also offended by a pre-game news conference Lynx players held. It included seemingly universal comments such as Rebekkah Brunson saying the shirts were meant to “honor and mourn the loss of precious American citizens and to plead change for all of us.” And Maya Moore saying, “We are highlighting a longtime problem of racial profiling.”

The Minneapolis police officers should not have been surprised. Last Saturday, the Lynx wore the exact same shirts and made similar statements before a game against the Dallas Wings. Several of the Wings teammates expressed gratitude for the show of support. In that instance, Moore declared, “If we take this time to see that this is a human issue and speak out together, we can greatly decrease fear and create change… Tonight we will be wearing shirts to honor and mourn the losses of precious American citizens and to plead for change in all of us.”

The Police Union Joins In

“We don’t support law enforcement murdering civilians and we don’t support civilians murdering law enforcement.” —Lynx player Simeone Augustus

Commenting on the officers who walked out, MPD union head Lt Bob Kroll said, “I commend them for it” and “if [the players] are going to keep their stance, all officers may refuse to work there.” Then, in an act even more petulant than the walk-off, Kroll said, “They only have four officers working the event because the Lynx have such a pathetic draw.”

The Lynx have won three of the last five WNBA championships, and average about 8,000 fans per game. That’s roughly half the size of a typical NBA crowd, and far larger than a rock concert at nearby venue First Avenue. (A rather well-known rock club, where Prince filmed scenes for Purple Rain.)

Minneapolis Police Have a History

You may recall the story from 2014, when Minneapolis Police Department union members duped a local TV station into claiming Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges was flashing a “gang symbol.” The slander was almost certainly a response to Hodges’s attempts at reforming the department.

A Longtime Problem

And such attempts are nothing new. During most of the 1980s, Anthony Bouza was head of the MPD and deeply unpopular with the force because of his reform measures. Later, Bouza described those reforms in Police Unbound: Corruption, Abuse, and Heroism By The Boys In Blue. Bouza wrote that “temptations to abuse are everywhere, and practically irresistible.” He found some officers so dirty and so unfireable, he would pay them to sit at an empty desk rather than poison new recruits with their attitudes. Bouza said officers refer to such attitudes as thinking of themselves as “meat eaters”: tough guys; ones who don’t ever back down from a confrontation.

MPD: To Protect and Serve… Themselves

Most hated of Bouza’s reforms was a reduction in two-person shifts. Officers claimed this reduction would make them unsafe, and pointed to an inevitable officer death as proof. (Police work is dangerous, although not so dangerous as fishing, farming, logging, driving, and many other occupations.) The real cause for officers’ hatred of this policy was the very reason Bouza initiated it. A two-officer crew has virtually unlimited power. In rare cases where an officer’s actions are investigated by prosecutors, witness statements from another officer will always be given more weight than testimony from suspects or bystanders.

Bouza took on the MPD job after previous experience as police commander in The Bronx. But that didn’t seem to matter to the “meat eaters” at the MPD.

Shame on the Minneapolis Police

In any case, shame on the petulant MPD officers who walked off their jobs in a huff because of the principled statements made by Minnesota Lynx athletes. But don’t expect the MPD to make desperately needed changes anytime soon.

Anniversary Post: Jeopardy!

[And here I was going to write about Jeopardy! and it turns out I did last year. So I’m just going to run it today because I’m literally falling asleep at my keyboard. I keep waiting for life to get easier, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Although getting rid of my publisher’s constant insults is a big step in the right direction. -FM]

Jeopardy!The game show Jeopardy! is 52 years old today. But it hasn’t been on all that time. It started on NBC and ran from 1964 through 1979, with a two year absence from 1976 through 1978. During that period, it was hosted by Art Fleming. Then, after four years off the air, it was brought back in syndication with the new host Alex Trebek. It was created by Merv Griffin, who created pretty much every “normal” game show you can think of. (All right, that’s a vast exaggeration.)

When I was a kid, I loved game shows. But I hated Jeopardy! There are good reasons for that. Now I kind of like it because I’m good at it. But it is just a quiz show. Providing the questions for the answers is very slightly clever. But it is designed this way simply to hide the fact that it is a boring quiz show. Eight year old Frank was no fool.

I’ve written three articles about the show. The first was simply, Jeopardy! In it, I explained why I would never try out for the show. Short answer: the up side is not compensation enough for the potential that I would humiliate myself. The second article was, “Power Players” on Jeopardy! Out of Touch. I was shocked that media figures were so ignorant and I commented on how the questions were easier for these elites than they are for normal contestants. And the last one was my finally getting around to answering a question that has been on my mind for years, Maximum Possible Win on Jeopardy! How much money could you walk away with on a single episode if you got every question right and maximized the “daily doubles”? $566,400. But the most anyone has ever won on a single episode is only $77,000. Only ten people have ever made more than $50,000.

Happy birthday Jeopardy!

Richard Petty’s Papa and the First Daytona 500

Lee Petty - Richard Petty's PapaOn this day in 1959, Richard Petty’s papa, Lee, won the first ever Daytona 500. Now most of you know that I’m not that interested cars, and that definitely includes auto racing. My father was a stock car racer when he was young. And I don’t much care for the danger, although certainly today it is far more safe.

Almost three years ago, I went to a NASCAR race, and wrote, NASCAR Culture and Sport. It did give me a better appreciation of the sport and for the people who like it. But it’s still not my thing. But I was struck by the fact that Lee Petty won the first first Daytona 500.

But isn’t it interesting that the first Daytona 500 was won by the father of the future stock car racing legend Richard Petty? That got me thinking about the idea of meritocracy — an idea that becomes more repugnant to me with each passing day. Let’s face it: Richard Petty didn’t go on to become one of the greatest stock car racers of all time because he got the right genes from his papa.

And we aren’t talking about money here either. I don’t even want to get into that, even though there is doubtless some of that as well. The truth is being in that environment, growing up and just being Lee Petty’s son, was the most important element in Richard Petty’s 200 Sprint Cup Series wins. Otherwise, he would have been just some hot rod driving teen who worked his whole life in a North Carolina manufacturing plant.

Richard Petty Got a Lot From Papa

We have got to get past this idea that the world is divided into the worthy and the unworthy. Our society needs to reward people only to the extent that people need to get along. In the race car driving sweepstakes, Richard Petty hit the jackpot. In the sexist pig category, he did really well too — and I’m not even talking about the recent Danica Patrick dustup. He’s also a racist I’m sure. But people don’t get judged in their totality. Instead, society decides that it is going to judge a couple of things above all else.

Well, Lee Petty and the environment he raised his sons in gifted Richard race car driving skills just as surely as bigotry. We can either accept both of those facts or we can deny them. But we can’t say he’s super keen because of his racing skills and isn’t it a shame that he grew up in a bigoted time and place.

Why So Many Conservative Game Show Hosts?

Alex Trebek

I was talking to Will the other day, and he mentioned that Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek was a conservative. I didn’t know that, but it didn’t surprise me.

I’ve noticed a few things about him. One is that he seems to have no sense of the humiliation that players feel when they aren’t doing well. He clearly and (as the supposed neutral host) unfairly shows an eagerness to see the current champion win. And most of all, his sexism shines through. That’s particularly telling, because you would think that for the good of the show, more female winners would be good.

Lots of Conservative Game Show Hosts

I’ve noticed in the past that there really are a lot of conservative game show hosts, in as much as we can tell. The most obvious example is Pat Sajak, who is a far-right climate change denier.

I’ve often wondered why this is, so I went looking and came upon a reprint of an article written by Rebecca Dana back in 2010, Why Game-Show Hosts Vote Republican. It, unfortunately, doesn’t provide a lot of answers as to why there are so many conservative game show hosts. It’s probably because it is an obscure issue and there aren’t a bunch of experts on game shows, much less the political leanings of their hosts.

What the Expert Says

But she does discuss the matter with game show expert, Olaf Hoerschelmann. He provided two quotes that are worth thinking about:

  1. “To have the right sensibility to be a game-show host, you do have to have a belief in rugged individualism — either you make it or you’re not worth it.”
  2. “Generally the ideology of acquiring money and achieving fortune through luck goes along pretty well with a certain basic capitalist attitude.”

I think there is a lot to the first quote. In a world where nothing is clear — where it is all shades of grey — it probably is very attractive to conservatives to have something like a game where there is a clear winner.

I, of course, hate this kind of thing. Even at my most fanatical as a chess player, it was never about winning — it was about the process, the creativity, and personal betterment. But for most chess players, winning is all that matters, which is why I didn’t really continue on in the game after I had reached a level where I thought I really understood it.

Unfairness on Jeopardy!

Chuck Wollery

Hoerschelmann’s second quote is much more interesting. That’s the thing about most game shows: the prizes are not at all fairly distributed. If the top player on Jeopardy! ends with a score of $15,000 and the next player ends with $14,999, that second player goes home with the standard second place prize: $2,000.

Now, you could say that the winner is playing by the rules and would have bet more if the spoils were more evenly shared. Exactly! And if that were the case, Jeopardy! would be a more interesting game. Instead, “Final Jeopardy” is as likely as not to be non-competitive and boring.

We might ask why the game is set up that way. And maybe it is as simple as the fact that it was created by Merv Griffin — another conservative.

My Ideas on Conservative Game Show Hosts

But I have another idea why there tend to be a lot of conservative game show hosts. It isn’t a job that takes much talent. That means, it is more likely to go to someone who is good at working the system — schmoozing with the executives.

I have been watching Chuck Woolery since I was ten years old — over 40 years! And I see absolutely nothing that distinguishes him from just about every other game show host.

We can also just deconstruct it. Game show hosts are generally male and rich. Both of those select for conservatism. That doesn’t apply to actors, because that’s an actual creative activity that draws in liberal minded people.

But men who are paid a lot of money to do things that aren’t hard: nine out of ten times, that man is going to be a conservative. And that means a lot of conservative game show hosts.

Alex Trebek image cropped from one by Nestor Cruz (US Air Force) – Page #123047485 Image #070331-F-3458C-100, Public Domain, via Wikipedia. Chuck Wollery by Beao under CC BY 2.0.