As Long As We Win – Aly Raisman on USA Gymnastics Culture

Last night, I had the opportunity to attend an event on the LSU campus featuring Olympic champion, and sexual abuse survivor, Aly Raisman. I hadn’t gone in to the evening expecting to write a blog post on my sports blog about it, but something she said made me take a long hard look at sports culture.

Not only that, but she also shared that people outside of the gymnastics world had asked her, and her teammates, why they were complaining, since they did win gold medals after all.

I think there’s something seriously wrong with sports fans if that’s our attitudes. I know I often roll my eyes at the fans who take to twitter to lambast professional athletes who dare complain about anything, after all they get paid millions of dollars to play a game, and we would all do anything to be in their shoes. Be that as it may, these are still human beings that we are talking about, and in the case of USA gymnasts, USA swimmers, UK and Argentine youth footballers, we are talking about children.

I do not think it’s appropriate to ignore sexual abuse, or mock mental health problems, or to dismiss real world problems because they are happening to people who happen to be the best athletes in the world. Yes, they’ve been lucky to have such physical talent, but it hardly makes it OK for them to be mistreated. The fact that the USA gymnastics team has been so successful does not mean that we can ignore the many, many people who harmed these girls by not taking accusations against Larry Nasser seriously. Aly had some very strong words for the administrators at Michigan State, the USOC and USA Gymnastics who did not investigate what was going on 20 years ago when the first rumors came out about Dr. Nasser. I can’t blame her. She’s 23 years old. If someone back then had done the right thing by these girls instead of ignoring it during the pursuit of Olympic glory, maybe she doesn’t have a sexual abuse survivor story to tell. I have no doubt, based on her brutal honesty about how much telling this story costs her, that she would love to not be in the spotlight over this. We should be amazed at her willingness to do it anyway, but we also shouldn’t forget that she shouldn’t have to. The adults in these organizations failed her, and every other gymnast who was abused in the ensuing years by Nasser.

And we failed them too, by thinking that anything that happens in the pursuit of a gold medal is “worth it” if they win in the end. That’s not a moral compass, that’s inviting athletes to be taken advantage of.

We need to be better than that as parents, as fans, and as human beings.


Link – It’s Time for Action | by Ken Dryden

This is something very important for all of us as sports fans to consider, and it’s also personal for me.

“Most journalists I’ve spoken with since the book was released, and most of the people who have stopped me on the street or in airports — men and women — have kids. And like all parents, when it comes to their kids, they worry most about the unknowns. They fear that their hockey-playing kids will tear up their knees, lose their dream of playing in the NHL and live the rest of their lives with regret and a limp. But far more than that, they fear that their kids will tear up their brains, lose all of their dreams and live the rest of their lives as … not them. “

Now, there are two stories I want to share with you related to what Ken Dryden says about concussions in the NHL, and why he is of the opinion that any blow to the head should be a penalty, period.

First, I have had a concussion. A very mild one. It happened, believe it or not, playing hockey. I was playing defense in a roller hockey pickup game one Saturday morning, took a misstep when pivoting my skates and fell straight back, the back of my helmet hitting the concrete directly.

Now, mind you, that contact with my head was nothing, NOTHING, like what happens in an NHL game routinely, and the effects were mild, only lasting 48 hours or so. But that 48 hour period was a small window into what the world must look like for people who’ve had multiple concussions every day, and it was not pretty.

I sat alone in my house, in total silence and darkness. Light and noise hurt my head and made me very irritable. My eyesight was a bit blurry, I had no appetite.

Then, it went away and I was fine. One minor concussion, but no real damage. Again, NOTHING compared to what happens to professional hockey players over and over again.

The other story I want to share is about depression and mental health. We’ve seen story after story about former NFL and NHL players taking their own lives, or struggling with their mental health, after taking many hits to the head. I also happen to know a lot about that.

Not related to concussions, I have struggled with depression in the past, and I’ve even made an attempt to take my own life. I know, for sure, what living in that sort of hell is like. I can’t, in good conscious, watch someone go through that same thing, knowing that we could have done something as simple as protecting their head better to have avoided that.

I just can’t. No matter how much I love the games, I can’t sit by and know that there’s something about these games that is causing these people to have to suffer that kind of consequence without speaking out about it, and frankly, being in support of making changes.

Would no fighting and no hits to the head be different than the hockey I grew up with? Absolutely. But the hockey I grew up with might also be killing some of it’s players. It’s OK to make changes that help it not do that.


Islanders Post-Mortem – Closing in on 300 Goals Against

Hopefully, the Islanders will actually fall short of the 300 goals against mark. (There’s still one game left though, and 7 GA is not completely out of the question.)

The thing is, in order to truly evaluate players this season, we have to keep this fact in the back of our minds. The Islanders didn’t just give up the most goals in the NHL this season, they’ve given up the most in years. Approaching 300 goals against is quite an accomplishment in this NHL day and age. The last teams to actually make it to 300 were the 2006-07 Flyers, and the Penguins and Capitals the year prior. The last Islander team to give up 300 was the illustrious 95-96 team.

Those teams were absolutely awful. Most of them finished below 60 points on the season and wound up with top draft picks for their efforts.

The 2017-2018 Islanders, however, have 78 points. They’re much closer to a .500 team based on the odd NHL points system than any of those other teams. They’ve scored the 8th-most goals in the league. They’re not untalented, they are simply really, really, easy to score against.

That makes it difficult to evaluate the individual numbers. Yes, Tavares, Lee and Bailey are putting together a great season, Eberle has been more than we expected, and Barzal is doing things that only the most rarefied rookies have ever done. Guys are scoring at career-high levels across the lineup, all the while the team can’t stop anyone.

Is it the defense? Has the goalies been pretty bad? Is it the system?


That’s the hard part of analyzing the team’s season. They were so bad we don’t know where the line between crappy defense, bad goaltending and crummy backchecking by the forwards begins and ends. It’s all of those things!

But, here’s my question. How much of the offensive production do we need to be skeptical about precisely because this team didn’t bother with playing much defense?

Earlier in the year, I started to look at the Islanders like the old Loyola Marymount college basketball teams. Their “strategy” seemed to be “We’re going to go out and score 100+ points, you have to keep up with that pace”. There wasn’t a lot of defense, or clock management, etc. At times I honestly thought the Isles strategy might be “Let them shoot so we can get the puck back that way”. I don’t have any other explanation for giving up 50 shots on goal over and over.

So, if the Islanders system required them to actually limit shots against, focus more on possession, etc. would the top two lines have still produced at that rate?

We may never know.

What we do know, is that those top two lines produced at a fabulous rate, and everything else about this team was, generally, abysmal.

So where do we go from here?

Well answer number one depends on John Tavares. He let this linger all season and didn’t really say anything one way or the other about his impending free agency. That’s his right, and it’s his right if he wants to sign elsewhere come July 1. It’s also our right as fans to hate him if/when that happens. I have zero qualms about any of that.

The second part of the answer will come in goal. Jaroslav Halak is also a UFA. I don’t see a lot of fans clamoring for him to be brought back. That’s understandable given the way this season has gone. But the Islanders need a goaltender. If they go into next season with Greiss and Gibson, look out. How they get a quality starter though, is an open question. There’s no sure-fire free agent to go after. It’s going to require making a deal.

Defense kind of looks the same way. There are a lot of questions back there. Is deHaan going to stay healthy or do they let him leave via free agency? How well will Boychuk hold up as he gets older? Will Hickey be back? What options are out there to improve the defense? What would it take to trade for a top pair defensemen? Clearly, Nick Leddy can’t play against the top lines, someone needs to.

Lastly, what about those 3-4 lines? There was not a lot of quality hockey going on there. How many of those players have any trade value?

As I said though, this all starts with Tavares, and his salary. If he leaves, the Isles have plenty of cap space to go after some serious upgrades in other areas, and I’d expect a very different looking team next year. If he comes back, they have less cap space, but still flexibility to make some changes through trades and incoming prospects.

Either way, this team needs to look different. What’s on the ice, behind the bench and in the front office didn’t work this year. You can’t swap out a couple of 3rd liners and expect that it’ll be much different next year.



Link – Syracuse’s 2-3 zone works but it makes college basketball unwatachable

I don’t disagree with this, but let’s not blame Syracuse for the problems of all of college basketball.

“Syracuse’s zone exposes why college basketball is an inferior product compared to the NBA. Nobody can shoot. Coaches are too married to their precious offenses. The players are not given enough creative freedom. So, against a zone, teams invariably resort to whipping the ball around the perimeter for 25 seconds until they’re forced to jack up a contested jumper late in the shot clock.”

I compared Syracuse to Kentucky on Twitter over the weekend, not because Syracuse has a ton of top-level NBA talent, in fact that don’t and rarely ever do. But the genius of Calipari was recognizing that the best way to be competitive with the one and done rule was to go out and recruit a whole bunch of top kids every single year, and accepting that they’d leave a year later. He didn’t try to coach them beyond that, or make wholesale changes to their games, he just recruited more talent and let it play. It doesn’t always work, but they are much better than most NCAA teams.

Syracuse, and Jim Boeheim, also recognized the situation and took advantage, just in a different way. They recognized how college basketball was getting worse and worse at fundamental basketball. They can’t recruit with the Kentuckys, Dukes, Kansas, but they can compete by forcing teams to shoot well and move the ball. Most can’t do it. Most have played one on one matchups and have no idea how to attack a zone this good in an actual game.

I’m a Syracuse fan. I’m under no illusion that this is anything more than a mediocre team. But, the 2-3 zone they play forces teams to shoot and play good basketball to beat them. That has them in yet another Sweet 16 despite being a very mediocre team.

A lot of more talented teams are at home.

So yeah, Syracuse is playing ugly, ugly basketball. The fact that it works is why they do it. Don’t blame them for playing to their strengths, it’s what good coaches do.

Syracuse's 2-3 zone works but it makes college basketball unwatachable