Sports at Large | WYPR

Sports at Large

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.

No doubt, there are many of you, hundreds, maybe even thousands who are a little conflicted about the latest goings-on in Washington.

No, not that stuff, but the fact that that city’s baseball team, the Nationals are heading for the World Series.

You probably know someone who claims to have gone to a Nationals game. If you work on that end of the Parkway, you might have a colleague who says they’ve backed the Nats since they landed here all those 14 years ago.

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.

There’s an axiom that goes freedom of speech isn’t free. Daryl Morey may learn that lesson the hard way.

Morey, the general manager of the NBA’s Houston Rockets, has, heretofore, been best known for bringing analytics to professional basketball management.

That, and blowing up his roster on occasion when he perceives the need, as in this past offseason, when Morey gambled Houston’s future by dealing away multiple first round picks to Oklahoma City for mercurial guard Russell Westbrook.

The Orioles began the 2019 season winning two of three against the Toronto Blue Jays. They closed the season winning two of three against the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox.

In between, they did a whole lot of losing, dropping more than 100 games for a second straight year.

That’s the first time that’s happened in the 65 seasons the club has been here in Baltimore, and there’s precious little we saw this year to suggest that next year won’t be a third.

Amid all the gloom and cynicism attending sports these days come a couple of unrelated heart-warming stories, oddly enough emerging from the same place, Charlottesville, Va.

By now, you’ve probably heard one of them. Tony Bennett, not that one, but the one who coached the Virginia men’s basketball team to the school’s first national championship, did a rather remarkable thing.

Customarily, when a coach wins a title in a major college sport, he or she is offered a raise, usually because another school or pro team is making an offer.

Collegiate athletes in California are one step closer to gaining a piece of financial freedom, now that a bill giving them the right to profit from their image and likeness has cleared the state legislature.

And, more importantly, the NCAA, college sports’ governing body, seems one step from realizing that young people don’t sacrifice their right to control their own destiny at the cost of a scholarship.

Too bad that recognition will almost certainly come not with enlightenment or social advancement, but with probable litigation that will only delay the inevitable.

There’s no truth to the rumor that school officials are thinking of changing the fight song at the University of Maryland to “Happy Days Are Here Again.”

But there’s no mistaking the advanced stage of giddiness in College Park and environs over the stunning start to the 2019 football season for the Terps, who have burst from the gates in amazing fashion.

Maryland opened the season a week ago Saturday with a 79-0 thrashing of Howard. While the score may have been shocking, the outcome shouldn’t have been.

NCAA Again Shows No Mercy For Athletes

Sep 2, 2019

The Virginia Tech football team opened their 2019 season Saturday against Boston College and Brock Hoffman had hoped to be part of the action for the Hokies.

Hoffman, an offensive lineman, transferred from Coastal Carolina to Tech’s Blacksburg campus in part to anchor the Hokies’ interior line.

Mostly, though, Hoffman wanted to help his ailing mother and hoped the NCAA, college athletics’ governing body, would show compassion.

It’s been said that we as a culture have lost the capacity to be surprised, that there’s little in this day and age that truly shocks us anymore.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I was truly taken aback Saturday night when word leaked out that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was retiring from football.

For the last week, the major question raging through African American barbershops, backyard barbecues and other places where black men gather had nothing to do with a possible impending recession or where to buy good property on Greenland.

No, the burning debate centers on whether one Shawn Corey Carter has left Colin Kaepernick hanging high and dry with his new deal with the NFL.

After the season the Orioles have had and the week they endured last week, Sunday afternoon’s home plate celebration following Rio Ruiz’s ninth inning home run to beat Houston must have been as cathartic as it was joyful.

Goodness knows the Birds needed something to rejoice in after getting pounded for three games by the Yankees and narrowly dropping a 23-2 decision to the Astros Saturday night in a game where Carlos Correia hit the longest measured home run in Camden Yards history.

AP Photo/Michel Euler

It’s hard to ascribe “blink and you missed it” status to something that goes on for three weeks.

Yet, one of the world’s great sporting events, the Tour de France, ended last week with hardly a notice in the American press beyond NBC, the network that aired the event.

And even NBC restricted its coverage to the weekends, relegating the bulk of its telecasts to a streaming outlet and a cable channel.

While checking out my Twitter feed the other night, I happened upon the page of Rich Eisen, an NFL Network anchor.

Eisen, who hosts one of the best sports talk shows in the business, posted a link to a Baltimore Sun editorial which took President Trump to task over his tweets directed at Congressman Elijah Cummings.

Eisen retweeted the piece with the sentence, “Without question, the most scathing op-ed I’ve ever read.” Seems innocuous enough, right?

Yet, it didn’t take long for someone to direct Eisen to "stick to sports." The poster further argued that the mere act of retweeting something was an opinion, adding "celebrity politics don’t matter." 

By week’s end, the full complement of Ravens will have reported to Owings Mills for training camp and the commencing of the 2019 season.

As the players and coaches gather to formulate the roster for the beginning of the NFL campaign, fans and the media will cast glances at certain position battles.


There are victory tours and then there’s the whirlwind that the United States national women’s soccer team is on.

There was a parade down the Canyon of Heroes in midtown Manhattan last week followed by a mass appearance on the ESPY Awards. Their team co-captain Megan Rapinoe even showed up on Meet the Press, for goodness sake.

Yes, these are heady times for the group of women who conquered all comers during their month-long sojourn to France, making millions of admirers and a certain detractor at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

There’s nothing about what we’ve seen so far this season from Camden Yards that should come as a surprise.

Anyone who watched the 2018 Orioles devolve into the team that lost a franchise record 115 games could not have imagined a significantly better 2019.

Once Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Zach Britton, Kevin Gausman and Darren O’Day were dealt at roughly around this time last year, Orioles management effectively hung out the “Gone Fishin” sign for the foreseeable future.

Michael Angelo / via flickr

It turns out that Albert Einstein may not have been the first person to say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Even if Einstein didn’t say it, the saying is still true, as demonstrated – again – by the NCAA.

Once more, the folks who run the governing body for college athletics have shown that they just can’t stop doing their favorite thing, which is trying to keep college athletes in the Dark Ages.