Posts Tagged ‘sport culture’

Response to Scott Van Pelt’s Comments on Maryland Students

Scott Van Pelt came out last week and blasted Maryland students for poor attendance at the Maryland-Florida St., basketball game.

“[The University of Maryland] started letting in a lot more smart people that are really driven about their futures, and you guys had to study last night, and good for you,” Van Pelt said last Wednesday during an appearance on ESPN 980.  “We had class back when I went to school, too.  And we went to games.  Because part of a college experience is a well-rounded experience, and going to athletic games is a big part of that.”

Van Pelt was angry, and he certainly had a reason.  The crowd was the lowest since 2003, when a snowstorm postponed a game and even the rescheduled game was played in slippery conditions.  The Terps were also still in the NCAA Tournament hunt for this year’s game—and they ended up winning in exciting fashion.

Schools can’t force students to go to games, and many outsiders would consider it admirable for students to be focused on their studies.  Van Pelt has every right to be disappointed in his school.  I was at the game and I was disappointed in the turnout among the students.

But Van Pelt expressed something else: anger.  He said college was about “living a little bit, outside I have to do my econ homework.”  Van Pelt proceeded to admit his GPA was pitiful, but it all worked out for him—and he didn’t miss games.

Yet Van Pelt fails to acknowledge that not everyone is destined to become a sports anchor at ESPN—a position where your knowledge of sports is more important than your college GPA.  Undoubtedly, that Economics major working on his econ homework needs a high GPA out of school to get a job in economics.

Sports are supposed to be a positive influence on young people, a fun outlet for people to let go.  If students don’t want to go to games, no one should make them, nor can anyone get angry at them.  It is sad for sports fans when we realize that not everyone love sports as much as us, but to say that it is an obligation for students at a University to attend sporting events is a stretch of the highest degree.

My brother plays football at the U.S. Merchant Marines Academy.  There, students are required to go to games.  They are also required to do push-ups whenever the team scores.  Forcing students to go makes them hate the football team.  If students were mandated to attend games, the games wouldn’t be fun.

If students don’t like sports and would actually prefer to study, it does not help for a prominent alumnus of the University to attack them—it reflects as poorly on the University as poor attendance at a basketball game.

The Terps have an exciting team this year, regardless of any game’s outcome.  Terrell Stoglin is an explosive scorer, Pe’shon Howard makes electric passes and Jordan Williams is the best big man in the ACC.  There will always be a contingent of students that only show up if the team is winning.  But there is an equally large group of students that truly enjoys watching the game—just for the hell of it.



Review of Terry Pluto’s “Loose Balls”

Loose Balls by Terry Pluto is not a book so much as an ongoing dialogue between the major figures of the American Basketball Association (ABA).  Pluto lets the characters that made the ABA so compelling tell their own stories.  The culture of the ABA made it unique and transformed the NBA into a similar product.

After the ABA folded in 1976, four ABA teams moved to the NBA: the Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets, San Antonio Spurs and Denver Nuggets.  But the most significant import was the ABA’s culture.  The ABA was a league of stars.  Starting with the hiring of George Mikan as ABA commissioner, the ABA became a league of personalities more than teams.

The pre-merger NBA was defined by team basketball.  The Boston Celtics of Bob Cousy and Bill Russell consistently dominated the outstanding individual performances of Wilt Chamberlain.  Yet, since 1980, you can trace every championship save three through eight star players: Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant.  Julius Erving, George Gervin, Rick Barry and their contemporaries created the modern, star-oriented basketball environment, for better or worse.  The ABA era merged the Russell days with the Bird, and helped change the culture of basketball forever.

The ABA was a unique league, which allowed Pluto to write a unique book.  Pluto compiles a great number of interviews to weave together a story spanning nine years.  I thought Pluto walked the tightrope between truth and fiction masterfully by making sure everyone knew the source for every story—because the source was telling the reader the story.  The story was not told linearly; instead, Pluto put names in front of each paragraph to signify who was talking, rarely narrating on his own.

Pluto immediately captured this reader’s attention by telling a story about one of the ABA’s most engaging figures: Marvin Barnes.  Barnes was a basket case; a crazy, uncoachable guy who played for the Spirits of St. Louis. Pluto tells a story about a flight Barnes was supposed to catch.  The flight departed at 8:00 p.m., and arrived at 7:59 p.m., due to a time zone shift.  ABA teams flew commercial and did not hold planes to wait for players.  At the game the next day, Barnes was nowhere to be found because he missed his flight.  When his coach called to ask where he was, he said he wasn’t “getting on no damn time machine.”

From there, Pluto went back to the modest beginnings of the league, when Dennis Murphy came up with the idea for a football league and, when that failed, decided to make a basketball league because, well, why not?  He then took the reader chronologically through the history of the league.  From Larry Brown through Coach Wilt to Dr. J and George Gervin.  Along the way, teams folded, players fought and owners quit.  But the league remained resilient and lasted long enough to force a deal that worked for four of the ABA’s teams, revolutionizing basketball along the way.

There was no better way to arrange the book and Pluto took a ton of information and successfully allowed it to flow in a way that was logical for the reader.  The main character of the book is the ABA itself.  There is no summary, as the story of the league involves varied stories carried about by varied players.  Each season had its own storyline, its own highs and lows shared by fans and players.  Yet, in the end, the book was defined by what each season had in common: committed, albeit often overmatched, ABA leaders trying to force a merger; self-marketing players that had personalities big enough to fill the league by themselves; and a bouncing red, white and blue ball that has become as legendary as the league itself.

Although the book was entertaining, it was longer than it had to be.  The chapters that focused on the owners and creators of the league were often dry.  Once Pluto returned to the players and coaches who made the league what it was, the story regained its pace.

Readers of “Loose Balls,” will find their views on the NBA change quickly.  Following personalities instead of players, getting fired up by an explosive dunk or watching your favorite team hit a three-point dagger late in the game are all elements of basketball that began in the ABA.  Readers will begin to recognize parts of the modern game that stem from the ABA.  No basketball fan should neglect a league with such an enormous impact on basketball’s present.  Every NBA fan, player, coach or staffer should read this book.

The American Basketball Association was, naturally, quintessentially American.  Entrepreneurial in spirit and unique in practice, the ABA brought out the best in American innovation and creativity, even if only by accidents of fate.  “Loose Balls,” strings this happy series of accidents together into a logical timeline, telling the story of a league that never should have been, by legendary players who otherwise might have been exiled to all but the deepest annals of history.


My return to THATV, and girls and guys wrestling

Ethan and I have been busy with other writing jobs recently, but I’m trying to get back on the THATV horse, starting by posting my assignments for my sports and culture class on this blog.  Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts on my weekly take in the sports culture world:


Joel Northrup, 16, forfeited in the first round of the Iowa state high school wrestling tournament.  His opponent was not some behemoth with lies on his birth certificate prepared to beat the crap out of him.  She was a 14-year-old girl named Cassy Herkelman.


Northrup has taken fire from critics (including Rick Reilly) and received a great deal of publicity for his default.  Was his decision an affront to women?




Women should have every opportunity men do, whether in the workplace, classroom or locker room.  But women and men are undeniably different.  Wrestling is a physical contact sport that could be described as fighting.


Most self-respecting young men are taught by their parents not too fight, but all little boys are taught not to lay an unkind hand on a female from the time they leave the womb.  Whether the reasons are religious (as Northrup said), moral or just plain discomfort, boys and girls should not be in a situation where fighting one another is necessary.


To solve the problem, women should have their own wrestling tournament.  There is boys’ basketball and there is girls’ basketball, there is baseball and there is softball, there is mens’ tennis and there is womens’ tennis.  Separation of men and women in sporting environments is a logical decision, especially in a sport as physical as wrestling—where many of the moves can put opponents in compromising positions.  So why not mens’ wrestling and womens’ wrestling?


Women can do any job men can do.  But it is obvious there are physical differences that make it appropriate to separate men and women in sporting arenas.  And that is not to say that Herkelman would have lost.  Without a doubt, she is a remarkable athlete who beat boys for much of the year.  But in the long run, a girl could get hurt wrestling a guy.  And when she does, let the firestorm begin.  Friends, classmates and parents alike would pillory the poor guy who beat her.


Wrestling should separate boys and girls just like almost any other sport.  Otherwise, the outcome of the fight will always end in a loss for the boy, even if he is the one raising his arm at the end.