Sports at Large | WYPR

Sports at Large

"Sports at Large" airs Mondays at 4:44 P.M.

Sports at Large is a weekly exploration of the issues and people who play and watch sports. SaL goes behind the headlines and stats to find the how and why, and the ways in which sports intersect with and influence our daily lives. SaL features interviews and commentaries from professionals and fans a like to tell a more complete story. One person described it as "a thinking fan’s guide to sports."

Milton Kent is a veteran of Baltimore sports media, having covered the World Series, the Final Four, NFL conference championship games and high schools over a career that spans over four decades. He currently teaches journalism at Morgan State University, where he is an advisor to the school newspaper, The MSU Spokesman. He and his wife live in Baltimore County. 

Contact Milton at sportsatlarge@gmail.com and on Twitter: @SportsAtLarge

Archive prior to December 2016.

 

 

CJ Anderson via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)

The phrase “speaking truth to power” has been said so frequently of late that it’s bordering on triteness, if not outright cliche.

But when a group of more than a dozen college football players addressed the leaders of the most powerful conference in the land last week about the return of the game this fall, they provided evidence that things won’t be as they’ve been before.

Indeed, speaking truth to power may, in time, be replaced by a new phrase: "kind of not good enough."

 

Maryland GovPics via Flickr (CREATIVE COMMONS BY 2.0)

If you’re the type that makes a wager on such things, and you bet that one of the major team sports wouldn’t be able to make it through its first week back from the pandemic without a problem, well, consider yourself a winner.

It only took four days from Major League Baseball’s launch on Thursday for the sport to hurdle into a potential crisis, as 13 Miami Marlins players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19, according to reports.

Jim the Photographer via Flicker (Creative Commons BY 2.0)

Like a steak tied at the end of a rope and thrust just out of reach of a hungry dog, the reappearance of live sports is being laid before us ever so elusively. 

NASCAR, men’s and women’s professional golf and soccer and mixed martial arts have made their respective returns, but those have only served to whet appetites for the main course.  

Ryan Schreiber via Flickr (Creative Commons BY 2.0)

Fans of professional basketball have become accustomed to seeing a studious man named Adrian Wojnarowski present the news, good or bad, about the NBA.

Behind a pair of tortoise-shell glasses, Wojnarowski brings scoop after scoop on ESPN about the goings-on in the association, delivered in what has come to be known as Woj bombs.

Well, Woj  provided quite the Woj bomb last week in the form of an f-bomb aimed at a sitting United States senator, no less, the production of which opened a discussion about the conduct of journalists.

Lorie Shaull via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)

The United States marked the anniversary of its independence Saturday, but Jonathan Irons got a three-day jump on celebrating his own liberty, a celebration that was more than two decades in coming.

That was the day that Irons set foot outside the Jefferson City Correctional Center, a penitentiary near the Missouri state capital for the first time in 22 years. 

 

Fibonacci Blue via Flickr (Creative Commons BY 2.0)

If there is a positive to be taken from this heretofore miserable year, it may be that 2020 is when we learned how powerful images and symbols can be.

Though the dominant icon of the year is bound to be the face mask that we’ve all been forced to wear, there are other symbols that will help to define 2020 in history. 

One of them, a Confederate flag, has gone front and center on the sports stage, and may lead the way to the toppling of another.

 

Maia Weinstock via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As seemingly every part of the American landscape has been touched in some way by the culture wars, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that sports have become the latest battleground.

Try as we might to keep some areas above the progressive vs. conservative fray, the fights have made their way to the athletic playing field level.

The current face off is over the propriety of whether transgender girls and women can compete in school sports with women and girls who are not transgender. 

 

Neil R via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0)

All around the sports landscape, signs of a return are sprouting up like spring greenery.

The NHL and NBA have announced their plans to resume their interrupted schedules next month, though there is talk of unrest among some basketball players about playing during times of social unrest.

Meanwhile, the NFL and college football are resolute in their determination to start their seasons on time this fall. And NASCAR and professional golf have made their returns with limited numbers of spectators watching racing.

BrechtBug via Flickr (Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Smilin’ Roger Goodell had the chance to do the right thing, to say what everyone already knew, to finally come clean after four years of obfuscation.

And the NFL commissioner almost pulled it off Friday, with a seemingly eloquent, presumably earnest 90 second address, delivered from his basement and in a blue sweater to boot. 

Staring at the prospect of open revolt from a large bloc of his personnel, as the nation came to grips with its unsavory racial history, Goodell had to cop to what must have been a lot of uncomfortable truths.

 

Brook Ward via Flickr (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

In the wake of the horrifying death of George Floyd, social media timelines have been flooded this past week with amazing words and images.

Some of the pictures and videos of unleashed anger and protests in the streets of the nation’s cities have been heartbreaking while the words have been, in many cases, eye-opening , especially from sports figures. 

 

Chilli Head via Flickr (Used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license)

In most respects, our attitudes about women’s athletics have evolved with the times. As more and more girls and women run, jump and throw with the boys and men, we’ve come to better respect their contributions and accomplishments.

There are, to be sure, occasional missteps. Recently, ESPN reporter Adam Schefter tweeted out his joy at the upcoming NFL draft, lauding it as the first sporting event since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schefter, whose young daughter is a budding reporter, conveniently forgot that the WNBA had held its draft a week before. 

 

meeneegeen via Flickr

For millions, the just concluded ESPN series “The Last Dance” has been an eye-opening experience, a pass into a locker room like you couldn’t imagine.  

The 10 chapters, spread over five weeks, were supposed to open a window into one of the successful runs in American sports history, the six NBA championships of the Chicago Bulls during the 1990s. 

And those episodes should have provided a peek into the soul of one of the most significant figures in international popular culture over the last 40 years, that of Michael Jordan.

 

SupportPDX via Flickr

It’s been said that you learn a lot about people when money’s on the line. If that’s true, we’re about to learn a lot about the integrity of the men and women who run colleges and universities.

That’s because in the next few weeks, those presidents and chancellors will have to make the call on whether college sports return in the fall or if they’re delayed on account of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

You’ll notice that cancellation was not among the choices. The games will go on and for the most obvious of reasons: there’s too much money to be made. 

Willis Lam via Flickr

Almost since Sports at Large premiered here 18 years ago, we’ve consistently hammered the NCAA for its clumsy handling of collegiate sports. 

And why not? The self-appointed arbiters of amateur athletics have proven themselves, time and again, to be targets of scorn and ridicule with their ham-handed treatment of the people they claim to protect.

And to paraphrase M*A*S*H’s Hawkeye Pierce, when you invite abuse, it would be impolite not to accept. 

So when the gang from Indianapolis finally gets one right, it seems only fair to point that out, too. 

 

Penn State via Flickr

  In football, players are taught to keep the activity going until the whistle blows. But when the echo of the whistle ceases, what’s supposed to happen then, beyond the next play, that is?

What are you allowed to know about the people on the other side of the whistle? Are they merely nameless, faceless gladiators on a field or on a TV screen or are you entitled to peer into their lives?

 

Chad Cooper via flickr

Don’t look now, but college athletics is immersed in yet another crisis that, depending on who you talk to, threatens its very existence.

Of course, given the real crisis we’re all facing, invoking the phrase existential threat is done advisedly. 

But a big challenge to the way things have been has suddenly emerged and it threatens to render college sports irrelevant. 

 

chrismetcalfTV via Flickr

So, we know that we’re not supposed to venture out of our homes unnecessarily. But on those occasions when you have to find toilet paper, fill a prescription or pick up food from the drive-through window, how do you feel?

In this new world of COVID-19, are you keeping your proper social distance? Are you wearing a mask? Do you feel safe?

 

Times of crisis often give people who are otherwise known for cowardice a chance to be heroes. 

The onset of COVID-19 may provide an opportunity to some of the most cowardly in sports, those who run college athletics, to do something noble and worthwhile.

Don’t bet on them taking it. 

 

Zach Frailey via Flickr

For as long as men and women have run, swam and jumped and balls have been thrown, there’s been a joy among many to cast scorn on the social significance of sports. 

To a certain set, it’s a badge of honor to look down their collective noses at the silly frivolities of people in garish costumes doing things that bring no value to society at large and collect excessive salaries doing them.

 

Doug Kerr via Flickr

By any reckoning, the 2020 Orioles season is going to be a long, tough slog. 

The Birds enter the campaign staring down the barrel of another 100-loss year to match or even exceed the losing of the last two years.

Arturo Donate via Flickr

"What if they had a sporting event and no one showed up?" sounds like the setup to a hackneyed joke.

Yet, if the events of the past couple of weeks are an indicator, that premise may come to pass.

Valerie via Flickr

While there are no actual NFL games at the moment, there’s also no shortage of drama during what is supposed to be an offseason.

USAG Humphreys via Flickr

Spend any appreciable time around those in Generation Z, the group born between 1995 and 2015 and you understand that the only constant is change. Seemingly everything in their lives is up for grabs as precious little is static.

One of the few areas of Gen Z life that has been consistent and unchanging is in the athletic realm where movement among college athletes is stifled and has been for decades.

Dave Edwards via Flickr

For millions of Americans, things like soy and almond milk and plant-based protein have become important substitutes for more traditional products like cow’s milk or hamburgers, to the point where many will say that you can’t tell the difference between them.

Well, now comes the XFL, a new professional football alternative to the NFL, unveiled the weekend after the Super Bowl.

Kris Robinson via Flickr

If you want to know how far baseball is off its moorings, consider this: Pete Rose is claiming the high moral ground.

Yes, that Pete Rose, the guy who copped to, sort of, betting on baseball, thus earning a lifetime ban from the sport, as well as its theoretical scorn and enmity, is using the cheating scandal that has enveloped the national pastime to try to worm his way back into its good graces.

charamelody via Flickr

If the people who run football had their way, you’d see their game not in terms of a mere battle between offense and defense, but rather in the context of another game.

The metaphor is that the players are pieces on a giant grass-covered chess board and the coaches are master tacticians.

The two featured strategists at center stage in Sunday’s Super Bowl, Eric Bieniemy of Kansas City’s offense and Robert Saleh, San Francisco’s defensive coordinator, were at the helm of dynamic units that held even the casual observer in thrall.

AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu

It’s quite likely that Sunday’s news of the passing of Kobe Bryant will be this generation’s moment where everyone remembers where they were when they heard the news.

Even if you’re not a sports fan and you couldn’t distinguish a Laker from a baker, Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles is a marker that transcends social barriers.

These are heady days for the WNBA, a phrase you rarely, if ever, have heard before.

Yet, as the women’s professional basketball league approaches its 24th season of operation later this spring, it does so with a bit of a buzz.

Was Alfred Lord Tennyson right nearly two centuries ago when he queried if it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all?

Or, posited in a 21st century NFL context, was the joy of the Ravens’ 14-2 season – the best in franchise history – worth the anguish that settled over Baltimore late Saturday night in the wake of the 28-12 loss to the Tennessee Titans in the divisional playoffs?

David Stern's Legacy

Jan 6, 2020

One of the recent trends in sports is to assemble some of the greats of a game onto an athletic version of Mount Rushmore.

David Stern, who died New Year’s Day of complications from a brain hemorrhage last month, would likely hate an attempt to place him onto such a lofty spot. The games are about players and coaches, Stern was often heard to say.

But as the book of American sports history is written and we come to the chapter on great authority figures, Stern’s name and visage will be prominently displayed, and rightfully so.

Pages