Monthly Archives: April 2013

Jason Collins is the Perfect Pioneer for Gay Professional Athletes

It finally happened. The story that everyone and their mother wanted the chance to break was broken by Franz Liz of Sports Illustrated. With one simple tweet, the landscape of professional sports may have been shifted on Monday, and it’s something so worth celebrating.

Everything about the way Jason Collins opened himself up to the world was perfect. Perfect because it was on his terms. Perfect because he’s the well-educated, well-spoken, and well-positioned pioneer that the closed community of gay athletes needed to break through the barrier and set themselves free of the chains that are holding them back. Perfect because he finally came to terms that he had to be the one to “raise his hand” first.

Collins talks of the sleepless nights in his article that will run in this week’s Sports Illustrated magazine, and how with each person he finally tells the truth to about his sexuality, the better those nights get.

The Stanford-educated basketballer so eloquently spoke on the struggles he went through over the past 33 years of his life, why now was the right time for him to open up about his life (despite not wanting to be the first), and the concerns he had in doing so. But also, he dispels any preconceived notions about the lack-of-toughness of a gay athlete, describes how—despite his attempts at living a “normal” life—he was given no choice when it came to his sexual orientation, and even took some humorous jabs at himself and those who support him throughout the piece.

Please find the time to read every word carefully and educate yourself on this man and his story, because it’s incredible. For those who need (or prefer) the cliff notes version, let’s walk through this historic article.

Collins didn’t want to be the first openly gay athlete but accepted the role and has embraced it.

I didn’t set out to be the first openly gay athlete playing in a major American team sport. But since I am, I’m happy to start the conversation. I wish I wasn’t the kid in the classroom raising his hand and saying, “I’m different.” If I had my way, someone else would have already done this. Nobody has, which is why I’m raising my hand.

Why now?

I started thinking about this in 2011 during the NBA player lockout. I’m a creature of routine. When the regular season ends I immediately dedicate myself to getting game ready for the opener of the next campaign in the fall. But the lockout wreaked havoc on my habits and forced me to confront who I really am and what I really want. With the season delayed, I trained and worked out. But I lacked the distraction that basketball had always provided.

On coming out to his twin brother, Jaron Collins, a former-NBAer.

I didn’t come out to my brother until last summer. … He was downright astounded. He never suspected. So much for twin telepathy. But by dinner that night, he was full of brotherly love. For the first time in our lives, he wanted to step in and protect me.

Collins may be the last person many teammates expected was gay.

On the court I graciously accept one label sometimes bestowed on me: “the pro’s pro.” I got that handle because of my fearlessness and my commitment to my teammates. I take charges and I foul. …

I’m not afraid to take on any opponent. I love playing against the best. Though Shaquille O’Neal is a Hall of Famer, I never shirked from the challenge of trying to frustrate the heck out of him. (Note to Shaq: My flopping has nothing to do with being gay.) …

I go against the gay stereotype, which is why I think a lot of players will be shocked: That guy is gay? But I’ve always been an aggressive player, even in high school. Am I so physical to prove that being gay doesn’t make you soft? Who knows? That’s something for a psychologist to unravel. My motivations, like my contributions, don’t show up in box scores, and frankly I don’t care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be evaluated as a team player.

On the double life he’s lived, and how he hopes to be treated moving forward.

By its nature, my double life has kept me from getting close to any of my teammates. Early in my career I worked hard at acting straight, but as I got more comfortable in my straight mask it required less effort. In recent days, though, little has separated “mask on, mask off.” Personally, I don’t like to dwell in someone else’s private life, and I hope players and coaches show me the same respect. When I’m with my team I’m all about working hard and winning games. A good teammate supports you no matter what.

The summary that simply needs to be read, sans explanation.

Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start. It all comes down to education. I’ll sit down with any player who’s uneasy about my coming out. Being gay is not a choice. This is the tough road and at times the lonely road. Former players like Tim Hardaway, who said “I hate gay people” (and then became a supporter of gay rights), fuel homophobia. Tim is an adult. He’s entitled to his opinion. God bless America. Still, if I’m up against an intolerant player, I’ll set a pretty hard pick on him. And then move on.

The most you can do is stand up for what you believe in. I’m much happier since coming out to my friends and family. Being genuine and honest makes me happy.

I’m glad I can stop hiding and refocus on my 13th NBA season. I’ve been running through the Santa Monica Mountains in a 30-pound vest with Shadow, the German shepherd I got from Mike Miller. In the pros, the older you get, the better shape you must be in. Next season a few more eyeballs are likely to be on me. That only motivates me to work harder.

Some people insist they’ve never met a gay person. But Three Degrees of Jason Collins dictates that no NBA player can claim that anymore. Pro basketball is a family. And pretty much every family I know has a brother, sister or cousin who’s gay. In the brotherhood of the NBA, I just happen to be the one who’s out.

It’s the sentiment that’s been traveling around the sports-media world, but it’s one absolutely worth repeating here. At some point, the news of a gay athlete coming out won’t be news at all. We’ll get there one day, as a society, and that will be a great day. But on this day, the day that Jason Collins stopped lying to himself and the rest of the world, it is news. And it’s the most welcome news that anyone could have hoped for.

Congratulations to Jason and to whichever team decides to offer the free agent a contract for next season. This is the beginning of something that’s been far too long in the making in professional sports, but something that we all should be so lucky to get to experience.

Video: Ridiculously Long Lacrosse Goal

Now, let me preface this by saying: I’m certainly no expert on boy’s lacrosse. I get the basic concept—carry the ball in the basket on the end of the stick, and put said ball in the other team’s net. It’s kind of like hockey but the “puck” gets passed through the air and this sport is played on grass, not ice (though that would make for some highly entertaining shiznit). But that’s about as much as I can tell you.

Despite my limited knowledge of the rules, I can say, with absolute conviction, that the scene captured in the following video, is one of the most ridiculous things you will ever see. Oh, and it features my alma mater, which makes it that much better.

Somebody get me John Brenkus on the phone right now! This ish needs to be on ESPN’s Sports Science immediately.

According to “BroBible,” Stefan Bergman’s insanely long goal came from 80 yards out. 80-freaking-yards out. And it helped the La Salle Explorers top Haverford School 11-9. (Both teams are considered national powerhouses, and are consistently ranked in the top 10 in the Mid-Atlantic region by Under Armour.)

To understand just how impressive this is, let’s take a quick peak at the dimensions of your standard youth/high school lacrosse field.

boys_lacrosse_field

So, according to that right there (for those who can make any sense of it), the distance from endline to endline is 110 yards, which—if the distance listed (80-freaking-yards out) is accurate—would mean the goal covered 73 percent of the field. Further, the shot had to be accurate enough to fit through 6-foot-by-6-foot square from 80-freaking-yards out. And, while traveling through the air from 80-freaking-yards out, the ball had to avoid contact with sticks of other players, specifically defenders, who’s weapons of necessity range from 4-feet-4-inches all the way up to 7-feet.

Absolutely incredible shot, and worthy of being featured in the #SCTop10.

Was RGIII Physically Cleared for This?!?!

I hope to God on high that Mike Shannahan, Dr. James Andrews, the Supreme Court, Mayor Gray, President Obama, and RGII were all consulted prior to this weekend’s Washington Redskins Draft Day Party.

Why, you ask?

Well, let’s go to the tape.

Did you see that? Did you see Robert Griffin The Third jumping around on that surgically repaired right knee? Did you see the future of Washington’s football team risking his life on a stage in front of HUNDREDS of crazed fans just to give them some false sense of hope that he’ll be ready to get back on the field when Week 1 roles around, 133 days from today.

We can all only hope that all of that up-and-down pounding on his knee didn’t cause any more damage or set him back a few days or–GASP–weeks in his recovery. At least that Week 1 matchup is a Monday night game, so he’ll have that extra day to rest before his coach (no matter what he says) decides to trot him out onto the field like a piece of meat, willing to do what he deems necessary to win a game.

Get to Know Mr. Irrelevant

With the 48th and final selection in the 7th round of the 2013 NFL Draft, number 254 overall, the Indianapolis Colts selected Justice Hamilton.. Wait.. No. Cunningham! Justice Cunningham!

The love that Mr. Irrelevant—the title given to the final person selected in each of the last 38 drafts—gets is pretty incredible. Hamilton gets an all-expenses-paid trip to Southern California for “Irrelevant Week” where he’ll be awarded the Lowsman Trophy and get to go to various events at Disneyland.

So who is this Hamil—pardon me—Cunningham character, anyway?

The 6’3″ 258 lb. tight end out of South Carolina is known for his blocking, but also caught 23 passes for 324 yards this season for the Gamecocks.

“He’s a pretty good thumper as a blocker,” according to Mike Mayock on NFL.com. “A better athlete than you think for his body. He has the ability to finish in the end zone. I’m happy to see him get an opportunity. He just needs to be more consistent as a player.”

More from the League’s Draft center.

Cunningham attended Central High School in Pageland, South Carolina. In 2009, he earned First-Team All-State honors. He helped Central reach the 2008 Class AA state finals and a 14-1 record playing both tight end and defensive end. Cunningham collected 20 sacks in his senior year, but was deemed to be a better tight end prospect, mostly due to his blocking skills. Cunningham also excelled in basketball. He chose South Carolina over Michigan State and North Carolina State.

Cunningham saw the field right away in two tight end sets. He was mainly in to block, so he caught just two passes for 23 yards on the year. In 2010, Cunningham earned the Steve Sisk Outstanding Blocker Award in the spring. He played in all 14 games, and logged two starts, while recording seven catches for 92 yards. As a junior, Cunningham played in all 13 games and made eight starts. He caught 18 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. In 2012, Cunningham played in nine games, and caught 23 passes for 324 yards.

STRENGTHS. Very good blocker, acts as a third offensive tackle at times. Quick hands and light feet. Powerful punch, and can get a push or turn the shoulder of defenders. Savvy route running, sells body fakes to create separation. Adjusts well to the football.

WEAKNESSES. Not an explosive athlete. Doesn’t jump off the line of scrimmage. Not very fast, won’t consistently threaten the seam. Doesn’t always make catches off his body. Lacks great height and length. Limited production.

NFL COMPARISON. Kevin Boss

BOTTOM LINE. Cunningham has seen a lot of playing time for South Carolina due to his skills as a run blocker and pass blocker, but he has been underutilized as a receiving threat. While he’s far from a dynamic athlete, he shows enough skills to get open and make catches. He should stick in the NFL, if for nothing else besides his blocking.

Cunningham joins another Mr. Irrelevant in Indy, Chandler Harnish, who was taken last by the Colts in the 2012 Draft.

While You Were Watching the NFL Draft

Everyone and their freaking mother had their TVs tuned to ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN583, and the NFL Network this weekend—myself included—and while you were listening to Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr. bicker like an old married couple about which draft expert’s 39th ranked left offensive tackle had the better intangibles, the rest of the sports world still carried on.

Here’s some of the things you might have missed over the past few days in sports not named the NFL.

National Hockey League

The Minnesota Wild failed to clinch a playoff spot on Friday night after getting decimated by the Edmonton Oilers at home, a team they had beaten the previous 17 times in the comfy confines of the Xcel Energy Center.

On Saturday, the Wild, Detroit, and Columbus will all be fighting to sure up the final two spots in the Western Conference. All the Wild need to do is beat the Avalanche and they’re in (or Columbus can lose in regulation and they’re in). It gets a bit more tricky for Columbus. The Blue Jackets will need to win their game against the Nashville Predators—in regulation or overtime, doesn’t matter—and they’ll need either the Red Wings to lose in regulation or the Wild to lose in any fashion. They can also get in if they earn a point against the Predators (i.e. lose in overtime) and the Wild lose in regulation.

Head hurting?

The Eastern Conference is set (for the most part). Some seedings can change, but the eight teams to make the playoffs have already been decided.

In other hockey news, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren flipped a GIANT F**K today when asked about Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s future with the team, per Inquirer reporter Sam Carchidi.

National Basketball Association

As the Heat and Knicks continue to roll  in the East (both lead their respective series 3-0), the Spurs are embarrassing the Los Angeles Lakers, and the Thunder are hoping the loss of Russell Westbrook for the remainder of the year won’t impact their chances as the West’s 2-seed—the NBA leading scorer at point guard had surgery on Saturday to repair the torn meniscus in his right knee, an injury he suffered during game 2 on Wednesday night.

And! On Saturday, the action began with the Chicago Bulls taking a commanding 3-games-to-1 lead in their series against the Brooklyn Nets after a 3OT thriller that saw over 275 points scored, and the Bulls rally from 14 down with 3 minutes left.

Major League Baseball

Sure, the first month of play is barely in the books, but some amazing things happened in the last few days, while the NFL Draft was going on.

We’ll start with two fine pitching performances on Saturday. In New York, Phillies pitcher Jonathan Pettibone, pitching in just his second major league game, filling John Lannan’s spot in the rotation while Lannan is hurt, earned his first big-league win against the Mets. Pettibone went five strong, struck out four, and held the Mets power bats in check for the most part throughout the day.

Another fine pitching performance was turned in on Saturday by the Detroit Tigers’ Anibal Sanchez who struck out 17 in eight innings of work against the Atlanta Braves. He had a chance to go after (and tie) the record of 20 Ks held by Roger Clemens and Kerry Wood, but his 121 pitch-count had manager Jim Leyland wary—Leyland said after the game he considered pulling Sanchez after the seventh, but he decided to let him go a little longer, and Sanchez went out and struck out the side in the eighth.

Oh,  and the PED story is getting ridiculous

National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing

For those who enjoy the sport—yes, it’s a sport—of NASCAR, all hell has been breaking lose in terms of fines and suspensions, arrests, divorces, and the sort. Read up, cause it’s too much to fit on these pages without losing about half of our followers.

But Don’t Forget About the Draft…

One parting shot. I, personally, find Frank Calliendo to be an annoying individual. But this may be one of his finer works and one that everyone should have the chance to enjoy. So, enjoy.

Athlete to Forgo Senior Season to Save A Life

Sure it’s Friday, but it’s possible something’s still got you down. If you need a pick-me-up of the noncaffeinated variety, I may have just what you’re looking for.

This is by far one of the most feel-good stories I’ve come across in quite some time.

University of New Hampshire senior track athlete Cameron Lyle was faced with, what to most would be seen as an incredibly difficult decision recently: Play his senior season like he had anticipated he would be doing, or give that season up to donate bone marrow and potentially save someone’s life.

He went with the latter, and told the Eagle-Tribune earlier this week that it was a no-brainer.

“I knew right away I was definitely going to donate,” said Lyle, who graduated from Timberlane Regional High School in 2009. “I was pretty terrified at first, but it is starting to settle in.”

Lyle had his mouth swabbed during his sophomore year, when many UNH athletes were being encouraged to join the bone marrow registry.

He didn’t think anything of it until a few months ago when he received a call from the National Marrow Donor Program telling him there was a possibility of being a match. Just a few weeks ago, the news was more clear. He was a 100 percent match.

“They told me it was a one in 5 million chance of me being a match for a non-family member,” Lyle said. “They gave me the timeline and everything’s been moving quickly after that.”

Lyle will be donating to a 28-year-old male who is suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. By law, Lyle and the recipient must remain anonymous to each other for one year.

“He has six months to live and I have the possibility to buy him a couple more years,” Lyle said.

After the surgery, Lyle will not be able to lift more than 20 pounds over his head for a few weeks, putting throwing the discus, hammer and shot put out of the equation.

While Lyle and the recipient will have to legally remain anonymous for a year, the donor said he would love to meet the recipient eventually, and that he can’t imagine what the man–only a few years older than himself–must be going through.

Happy Friday.

A Big Long List of Sad

While trolling the pages of Deadspin today and watching this pretty awesome GIF of five Yu Darvish pitches overlaid on one another, I came across what has to be one of the most depressing lists to ever be published in the public sphere.

Thanks to what had to be some tireless work by the author of this page–Stew Thornley–you and I have the chance to go through the last 52 years of baseball history and see the list of every no-hitter or perfect game that was broken up in the ninth inning. According to the article “Lost in the Ninth,” published on MilkeesPress.com, roughly half of the no-hitters carried into the ninth inning since 1961 made it through the inning. The number jumps to 60-65 percent after one out had been recorded, and nearly 80 percent with two gone. So who are those unfortunate souls who had their dreams crushed, who come so close only to fall flat on their faces, who nearly etched their names in baseball lore but ultimately were stopped short?

View all 139 of them on the site.

There’s plenty of other interesting bits of tid over there as well. Thornley neatly lists all of the perfect games that were broken up with two outs in the ninth, and various other scenarios. But the amount of detail per listing is pretty incredible–or highly depressing depending on how you look at these kinds of things. He gets down into the date of the game, who the pitcher(s) was/were, what team they were facing, and how the goose egg was cleared, be at a single, home run, or hit by pitch (talk about a rough way to lose one–and it happened more than once).

All of this, of course, is relevant now because Yu Darvish, the focus of that awesome GIF I mentioned at the top, had his bid for a perfect game broken up with two outs in the bottom of the ninth against the woeful Houston Astros earlier this month.

Some trivia, courtesy of “Lost in the Ninth”:

  • The most frequent spoiler of the expansion era is Horace Clarke of the New York Yankees, who broke up three no-hitters in the ninth inning, all within a month in 1970. Nelson Liriano of the Toronto Blue Jays broke up two no-hitters within a week in April of 1989.
  • One of the no-hitters Liriano broke up was by Nolan Ryan. Ryan holds the major league record for the most no-hitters as well as the most one-hitters. He also had a no-hitter broken up in the ninth five times. The National League record-holder for one-hitters, Steve Carlton, never pitched a no-hitter nor did he ever carry one into the ninth inning.
  • Tom Seaver experienced ninth-inning disappointment three times, once having a perfect game broken up, before finally pitching a no-hitter in 1978. The real tough-luck pitcher, however, is Dave Stieb, who had a no-hitter broken up in the ninth in 1985, then two—both with two out in the ninth and one on a bad-hop single—in his final two starts of the 1988 seaons. The following August, he had a perfect game spoiled by Roberto Kelly with two out in the ninth. Stieb, like Seaver, did eventually complete a no-hitter.
  • Preston Gomez’s legacy as a manager includes twice pinch-hitting for a pitcher who had a no-hitter through eight innings but still trailed in the game. One was Clay Kirby in July of 1970, the other Don Wilson (who had already pitched two no-hitters in his career) in September of 1974. In both cases, the relief pitcher was unable to complete the no-hitter in the ninth inning.
  • Except for Ken Landreaux’s one-out double in the ninth, Bruce Kison would have been the holder of the most lopsided no-hitter ever, as his Angels beat the Twins, 17-0, in April of 1980.