Sports at Large | WYPR

Sports at Large

"Sports at Large" airs Mondays at 5:44 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.

 

 

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.

At their best, sports provide a bridge to connect otherwise disparate groups often across racial, gender and ethnic lines.

But, our games, or more accurately, the people who play them, can split us too, usually unintentionally and often along those same lines.

We found that in a seemingly harmless letter to the Baltimore Sun last Thursday about a gift from one man to his fellow men.

When I heard that golfer Phil Mickelson was taking a hefty appearance fee to play in a tournament next month in Saudi Arabia, the phrase, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul,” came to mind.

That turn of phrase appears twice in the New Testament, in the Gospels of both Matthew and Mark. Now, I’m no Biblical scholar, but when a passage shows up twice in separate books, that probably means something.

Jesus certainly wasn’t thinking of Mickelson directly in his talk with his disciples, or even the game of golf, which was thousands of years from being created.

But the overall concept of social responsibility among those who have much is universal, even off the links.

It only took 14 games into his second season for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to grab a piece of professional football history.

On a five-yard run in the first quarter of Thursday’s win over the New York Jets, Jackson became the NFL’s single-season rushing leader for a quarterback.

Jackson has run for 1,103 yards. That makes him the first Ravens rusher to run for more than 1,000 yards in five years.

It’s official: The 2020 Orioles will stink.

That’s not exactly lurching deep into Nostradamus territory. With seasons of 115 and 108 losses as prologue – the worst two years in franchise history -- it’s not a stretch to think that the new season won’t be much better than the last two.

If you were somehow on the fence about whether to completely embrace the Ravens, if the previous portion of the season wasn’t enough to get you a seat on the bandwagon, well, it’s going to be near impossible to keep you off now.

The NFL’s long national nightmare appears to be over and it has nothing to do with head trauma or a defensive lineman swinging a helmet at an opponent.

No, the league has gotten its fondest wish by the fadeout of Colin Kaepernick into total oblivion. And from the NFL’s perspective, the deed is sweeter since it was Kaepernick himself who provided the tool to shovel his own professional grave.

At a press conference a year ago to announce a contract extension to his original five-year pact, baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred declared that “every single day has really been a great experience for me."

We’re about to put that statement to the test when Manfred confronts the greatest challenge to a commissioner’s stewardship since Kenesaw Mountain Landis nearly a century ago.

And just as Landis did, in dealing with the Black Sox scandal, Manfred will have to face issues of integrity surrounding the game.

Manfred, who, like Landis, is an attorney, must decide how much cheating he and baseball can live with and what to do about it.

Winter is coming and it behooves us all to get ready. For some, that means stocking up on gloves, toilet paper and snow blowers.

For sports fans, however, that might mean clearing up space on the DVR for as many football and baseball games as it can hold, for there may be a lot fewer of them down the road.

You see, the cold that’s on the horizon is the distinct possibility of labor problems between the NFL, Major League Baseball and their respective player unions.

And by problems, we mean lockouts, shutdowns or that most dreaded of words, a strike.

By now, you’ve heard that the NCAA finally got wise and agreed to join the 21st century by applying common sense to the way it treats athletes.

The news of the week was that the organization’s Board of Governors had approved a plan to allow athletes to personally profit from the use of their names, images and likenesses, which had heretofore been forbidden.

Does Jackson Hold Key To Ravens' Run?

Oct 28, 2019

Normally, that NFL-imposed week off somewhere during the season helps the team taking the time away more than anyone else, namely the fans.

And while Ravens players and coaches can certainly use the time to refresh and heal, the fans may actually have had greater use of Sunday’s breather than team personnel.

These first seven games have been nothing short of the proverbial rollercoaster ride for fans who have watched the season unfold in rather unpredictable ways.

From a dazzling performance in Week 1 against the hapless Miami Dolphins to a putrid effort in a home loss to Cleveland that evened their record at 2-2, the Ravens were quite the model of inconsistency and confusion.

As the clock ran down at the end of last week’s fifth and deciding game of the WNBA Finals, the one that brought a championship to the Washington Mystics for the first time in the 22-year history of the franchise, I got well, a little misty.

With a couple of exceptions, I don’t know any of the players. I didn’t go to any games this year, and I haven’t been to a Mystics game in at least five years.

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