GLMS: Girls League for Meaningful Sports

Girls may be able to play but it doesn't mean they're treated as equals
Girls may be able to play but it doesn’t mean they’re treated as equals

Equality. What does that mean? What does that mean in sports for men and for women? Is it merely the right for a woman and a man to be able to play the same sports? Is it really that cut and dry? Not exactly and here’s why. Continue reading GLMS: Girls League for Meaningful Sports

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Our Defeats, Our Connections

This pass Saturday, I, along with thousands of other U of M students, witnessed the Men’s Basketball team’s shocking loss to the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). While I can honestly say I enjoyed nearly every minute of the game, the end result was truly disappointing and carries major implications for the potential of our team this year—at least I was told.

Above, a picture of junior shooting guard Caris LeVert. LeVert lead the Wolverines in scoring during Saturday's loss to NJIT.
Above, a picture of junior shooting guard Caris LeVert. LeVert lead the Wolverines in scoring during Saturday’s loss to NJIT.

To start the first half, our players appeared to have a slight edge. We did a really good job passing the ball in the first several possessions, though our ability to produce consistent stops on the defensive end seemed challenging. By the end of the first half, a dominant team seemingly was nowhere to be found.

In the second half, the tone of the audience saw a drastic shift. As NJIT slowly created a lead for themselves, I began to overhear surrounding fans contemplating the possibility of witnessing a major upset. “This can’t be happening,” a fan sitting directly behind said. “We’re way too good to lose to a team like this,” another said, highlight her general sentiment of utter disbelief. One of the team’s star players, junior Caris Levert, led the impressive offensive effort in the second half, but his personal success proved not enough to challenge the nearly perfect-from-the-field shooting opponents. The end score of the tense and clearly competitive contest was 72-70, in favor of the visiting team.

For a fan of any sport, there exists an ever-present consciousness of the feasibility of unfavorable results. No matter how good a sports team is, the reality is that to win, you must lose—though, of course, some teams end up losing far more than others. Coming from Washington, D.C., I am extremely familiar with that reality.

In recent years, the major four professional sports teams (baseball, basketball, football and hockey) that call D.C. their home have experienced abysmal results when faced with achieving “champion status”—to say the least. The Washington Capitals—the hockey team—consistently yield a high playoff ranking, only to be defeated in the first or second round by an unworthy competitor. The team has yet to win the Stanley Cup. The Redskins, considered the most historically successful D.C. franchise, hasn’t won the Superbowl since 1991. In the past two seasons, the team has posted a total of six wins. Similarly, the Wizards haven’t won the NBA championship since 1978 and have also recently struggled in the early rounds of the playoffs. Lastly, the Nationals—the most recent testament to the city’s unsuccessful athletic state—for the past two years have been considered favorites to win the World Series (as projected by ESPN). The team was filled with young talent, considered entirely capable of bringing the World Series back to D.C. for the first time since 1933. This year and last, the Nationals suffered early elimination from playoff contention by subordinate competitors, each of whom boasted fewer wins throughout the regular season. I had the distinct misfortune of observing the final game of the Nationals season a year ago—an event that will forever go down in history as one of the most disappointing loses for a D.C. team in the playoffs.

The game started nothing like it ended. Before the game and throughout the first four innings, fans were loud and filled with excitement for what was to come. The game was the last in a series against the St. Louis Cardinals that would decide who would advance to the next round. The Cardinals held a notorious reputation for being a team that executed on an elite level in the both the regular season and in the playoffs. With an elite pitching from our then ace, Gio Gonzalez, and sold early run production, the Nationals created a six run lead (6-0) by the end of the third inning. That lead was soon to disappear.

By the bottom of the ninth, the Nationals were up slightly (7-5). Davey Johnson, the team manager, called in its final pitcher, Drew Storen, to close out the game. In that one inning alone, the Nationals blew their lead from 7-5 to 7-9. The Cardinals ultimately won the series, but lost the next round to the San Francisco Giants.

On the train ride home, I remember a sense of incredulousness filling the air. Washington sports fans were experiencing a feeling that felt all too familiar: failure in the playoffs. I remember claiming that I no longer considered myself a fan, for the shock was too challenging to come to terms with at the time.

Above, a picture of the Washington National's park in 2011.
Above, a picture of the Washington National’s park in 2011.

In witnessing both unexpected losses—the Men’s Basketball team this weekend and the Nationals a year ago—I can’t help but ponder why people continue to come back and support their favorite teams. According to Bartlett Giamatti, the former commissioner of Major League Baseball and author of Take Time for Paradise, “sports can be viewed as a popular or debased religion.” I can’t up help but agree with this assertion. Only those who follow sports can truly understand the satisfaction of having your team find success. With both professional and collegiate athletics, a team’s results are often viewed as an extension of a person’s identity. Fans defend their teams as if they are protecting their own children.

Since enrolling at the University of Michigan, I have noticed an increasingly strained relationship I hold with my home city as a result of distance. After watching the Washington Nationals get eliminated from the playoffs this year, I felt like a major link to my city had been destroyed. I knew my fandom wouldn’t be compromised by the loss, but it made me sad to think about how I could no longer brag about the Nationals to those I met. I can only hope that a similar affinity with the Michigan Basketball team develops during my time in Ann Arbor.

The Team, The Team, The… Coach?

As Michigan students, we all know coach Bo Schembechler’s legendary speech about ‘the team’ from 1983. “No man is more important than the team. No coach is more important than the team. The Team, The Team, The Team…” In fact, this quote is one of the most famous lines in sports history. But is the team actually more important than the coach, the catalyst and leader of that very team? In many instances yes, the team as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts, but what if I told you there are several circumstances in which the coach is in fact more important than the team?

Continue reading The Team, The Team, The… Coach?

Sports•deportes•الرياضة•ספורט• sportif •스포츠의•спортивный

Imagine:

An American tourist’s favorite question

You and your family are on a cruise for two-weeks! While most of the cruise stops have been in English-speaking countries, the last stop will be in a foreign country where little to no English is spoken. You and your family will be in this country for 4 hours and have an unlimited amount of money to spend. You are in charge of planning the itinerary for your family. Out of the following activities, which are you most likely to enjoy? (Keep in mind that you and your family are not familiar with the local language):

  1. A highly-acclaimed drama film (spoken in French, with no subtitles)
  2. A guided tour of the town (the tour-guide speaks broken English)
  3. A professional soccer game

I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that you chose answer 3. Why?–because sports are universal. Sports cross all geographic, ethnic, and religious boundaries. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, what background you’re from, or what socio-economic class you’re in; sports are something so universal that it doesn’t matter who you are, you can enjoy and understand sports no matter what.

This past year, I had the privilege of spending a gap year abroad in Israel. I must admit, despite being immersed in the culture for an entire year, I am far from being a fluent Hebrew speaker. Upon returning home to America, my parents were shocked to learn this and asked me how I was not yet fluent. I explained to them that throughout the entire year, I had mostly been with other Americans. I had been with my friends from home, my friends from my program, and other American students throughout the entire year. We almost always went to “touristy” spots, which were designated for English-speaking tourists. I rarely was in a situation in where everyone only spoke Hebrew.

Another question I anticipated my parents asking me was if I got the chance to visit my relatives in Israel. The answer to that question was, “no.” Extremely upset with me, I explained to them matter-of-factly, that it would have been awkward spending dinner with my relatives who I have never met and only speak in Hebrew. Despite their initial disappointment, they knew I was right. They moved on with their interrogation and proceeded to ask me the most timeless of questions, “what was your favorite thing you did?” Finally, an easy question! Without hesitation I replied to them, “the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer game.”

My best friend, being both Israeli and quite the soccer enthusiast, explained that we just had to “go to a Maccabi game before we left.” After much pestering over the first few months, my friends and I eventually gave in and decided to purchase tickets for a game.

Maccabi Tel Aviv celebrating Israeli championship

December 12th, 2013, we were here. The Maccabi Tel Aviv team was playing the Bordeaux team, not that that had mattered to me at all. I have never been a good athlete or cared much for sports. But, I was here and I decided I might as well get into the game.

To be honest, it was the first, and probably only time that I had felt truly immersed in the culture. It was mid-December, and I know it sounds like a lie, but Israel get’s cold and windy! Here we were, twenty American’s, cheering for the Maccabi team just as loud as the Israeli’s sitting besides us. We were sharing our warm blankets with them and chanting with them as the Maccabi’s scored, and the fact that an entire language separated us, just didn’t matter. The Israeli’s were fervently screaming their chants, and while I may not have known what they meant, I understood their meaning: Win! At last, I had finally felt one with the people.

University of Michigan fans celebrating a victory

Just this past week, my sorority friends and I went to the Michigan vs. Syracuse basketball game. As we were going crazy and screaming for the team, I felt like I was having deja vu. This basketball game felt nearly identical to the soccer game I had attended last year. The excitement, the adrenaline, and the energy felt during any sporting event, remain perpetual. It doesn’t matter if you are in Israel, in America, a sport-enthusiast, or a first-time sport attendee; that nervous feeling you get as you anxiously await for your team to score, is universal. The most universal and widespread language I had come to realize, was sports.

Importance of Play for Female Athletes

This semester, I attended two LSA Theme Semester events that focused on female athletics. Firstly, I attended “Persistence Pays Off: How Women Athletes Changed the Game at the University of Michigan.” This event illustrated the similarities and differences between the experiences of current University of Michigan female athletes and those of the 1980s. The event was structured in a way in which current athletes interviewed former athletes of their respective sports. The pairs of current and former athletes consisted of gymnasts, track and field runners, field hockey players, and basketball players. Continue reading Importance of Play for Female Athletes

Sports as a Medium for Support

Back in October (over the University of Michigan’s fall break), I had the opportunity to attend a high school football game played by my alma mater. Watching my former teammates play their senior season had always been something I’d intended to do, as I recall vividly how much it meant to me to see alumni and former teammates of mine attend games during my own senior season (now over a year ago). For this reason, I made a point of attending at least one game this year.

It was a close game that my former school was able to win, but this fact is irrelevant.

The facade of my alma mater

What is relevant is something which transpired late in the game. A friend and former teammate of mine, a (now) senior who played the same position I used to play (whose name I will leave out because it is not particularly necessary in this discussion) was seriously injured. He sustained a serious spinal fracture in one, normal play. A horrible twist of luck, and one which, believe me, he, nor anyone, should ever deserve.

Since this moment, two things about my friend’s situation of amazed me. Perhaps–knowing him and the community surrounding him–I can’t shocked by these two things, but they are certainly incredibly reassuring and comforting to see. First, the fortitude and persistence he has shown to attempt to recover has been absolutely inspiring (it is possible he may not walk again, but he has not let that deter him), and, second, the support that his surrounding community–one which I used to be a proud member of–has demonstrated is amazing.

I’m sure there are countless incidents involving sports that have brought a community together, whether in joy or sorrow, but this one hit home for me more than any successes or failures I experienced in my sports career (now a thing of the past). Both the fact that this injury could have happened to anyone, playing anywhere, including myself, is the most eye-opening characteristic of this occurrence. It is for this reason, perhaps, that sympathy and support are not the only responses one might have to such an awful thing happening. Frustration is certainly a reasonable response, one which I encountered the moment I heard the news of the severity of my friend’s injury. “Why him?” “How could this happen?” And even expletive-filled pleas to an intangible thing with no real answers.

Charles “Peanut” Tillman. Cornerback for the Chicago Bears

The reasons don’t matter once something like this happens. The response is the only thing that bears significance. And the countless visitors to the hospital and rehabilitation center he is now housed at (including a visit from one of my own favorite athletes, Charles “Peanut” Tillman) have shown my friend and his community could not have responded much better.

After attending the Michigan vs. Syracuse basketball game this past Tuesday, I would also say I am fairly convinced that the support and sympathy shown by the community in which I grew up would be replicated by the Michigan community were a similar incident to occur (but, let us hope, one never does).

This incident and the response to such a tragedy has convinced me of several things about human nature. Humankind and the human spirit is naturally kind. We are, in most instances, inclined toward unity. As such, I genuinely struggle to agree with Thomas Hobbes’ assertion that human nature is driven by self interest. A community driven by individual self interest would not demonstrate the genuine sympathy and support shown toward my friend. Though one may argue that we act in sympathy out of self interest, because “being nice makes us feel good,” to argue that the kindness shown by this community was driven by my community’s self interest is preposterous.

Consequently, all of this has led me to be convinced of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s perception of our nature as one that is kind, supportive, and united.

Student-Athletes or Athlete-Students?

Kelly Candaele and Peter Dreier write about the role of athletes in political activism in their article “Where are the Jocks for Justice?” Even though there have been numerous athletes who have spoken out on key issues in the last 50 years, Candaele and Dreier emphasize that “contemporary activism hasn’t infiltrated the locker rooms as it did in the past…” Reasons for this include better economic situations for athletes, higher stakes for endorsement potential, and possibilities of facing derision from fans and other athletes. Continue reading Student-Athletes or Athlete-Students?