Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Saints No Longer Undefeated...

Yes, I know I'm a little late on the post... Been sleeping hard in the midst of the snowstorm of the weekend.

But the Dallas Cowboys did what every other team couldn't do for the past 13 weeks of the New Orleans Saints' season. The Cowboys pulled off a dominating performance against the Saints to win 24-17. Not only did this win end the Saints' run, but it also put themselves in control of their own destiny to make their own run for the playoffs.

Cowboys DE Demarcus Ware not only played in the game after suffering from a sprained neck and being carried out on a stretcher out of last week's game against the Giants. Nope. He had 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, giving the Cowboys the defensive attack that they needed against the potent New Orleans offense.

QB Tony Romo didn't disappoint either. He has had ZERO interceptions in the past 3 games, and he threw for 22 completions. Despite December historically being the worst month for the Cowboys, Tony Romo has been playing the best football out of his entire career - that came through in this Saints game.

Of course, WR Miles Austin did his thing, with 7 receptions for 139 yards. I have to say, I definitely enjoy watching him play......

However, the Cowboys could not win without some type of drama. With Dallas up 24-3, the Saints went marching in (had to do it) with 14 unanswered points, cutting the Dallas lead to 24-17.

It doesn't end there - after all, that's not enough drama for a Cowboys game. The Cowboys decided to play conservative football, and instead of pushing for another touchdown on 4th down, they let Nick Folk kick for a field goal; a 24-yard field goal that would seal the deal for a Dallas win over the then-undefeated Saints...
NO GOOD!

As a Cowboys fan, I almost DIED at the sight of an NFL-kicker, who made the PRO-BOWL one time, miss a crucial FG at such short yardage. The worst part of the missed FG kick?

I called it.

Afterward, I was doing my trademark rocking-chair motion with hands folded, pleading to the screen that the Cowboys hold on because the playoffs depend upon it. Not to worry though, the Cowboys defense stepped up when it was needed most.

Demarcus Ware up and sacked Saints' QB Drew Brees with less than 20 seconds left in the game, forcing the ball out of Brees' hands. However, a fumble was not called, on account of the ball coming out from the force of the hit. I thought, "Bull," but I would be vindicated. An almost identical play by Demarcus Ware forced a definite fumble, which was recovered by the Cowboys to seal the win.

Dallas follows through with a knee on the final play of the game, winning 24-17.

Thankfully, Nick Folk is no longer a Dallas Cowboy. Instead, the NFL leader in missed field goals (with 10) has been replaced by... SHAUN SUISHAM! Ironically, the Cowboys play Suisham's former team, the Washington Redskins, who lost today in a humiliating loss to the NY Giants, 45-12.

As a Cowboys fan, I hope not to see Suisham miss crucial FG's from short yardage like he did in the last Cowboys/Redskins game. Should be fun to watch, nonetheless.

Which leads me to the next point...

The New Orleans Saints were bound to lose. Something about them just did not feel right for them to be go undefeated. Their vulnerabilities were exposed in the wild 33-30 win over the Redskins in Week 13, and the following week against the Atlanta Falcons where they also barely won 26-23. If the Cowboys went into the Super Dome on top of their game, the Saints would have to play a quality team after those previous losses.

It also didn't help New Orleans that they did not have a strong defense: The Saints were 25th in Pass defense and 18th in defending the run, and that's just the short story, aside from allowing 30 points from an offensively struggling Redskins team. With the Cowboys going in with receivers like Miles Austin, a strong running game, and Tony Romo playing better than he ever has before, it set New Orleans up for failure. All Dallas had to do was to bring out all of this in one game, along with their defense to stop the offense. And they did just that.

It's nothing personal; I kind of wanted to see the Saints go undefeated with the possibility of 2 undefeated teams, the Indianapolis Colts and the Saints. But when I saw that the Cowboys had a chance against the Saints (many doubted that chance) as long as the conditions were right, I thought about the opportunity for Dallas to redeem themselves in December to make the playoffs (and finally win a game there too).

From here on out though, I wish the Saints luck. They'll be fine since the Vikings don't look so well either, losing 2 out of the last 3 games, including this week's loss to the Carolina Panthers, 26-7. So the Saints can breathe.

Finally...

I'll be in Florida fortunately and unfortunately during the Cowboys and Redskins game (leaving Friday), although I will be watching. I'm excited for sure; for the trip and the game.

I'd like to give a shoutout to the Washington Caps as well, being #1 in the entire NHL. A good 2-1 Western road trip showed fans the Caps might finally be a legitimate team finally. I mean, for the first time in a LONG time, I heard the words, "The Caps are the more experienced team, and it shows" in the 6-1 win against the Northwest Division leading Colorado Avalanche. It's a good time to be a Caps fan indeed.

Monday, December 14, 2009

“Hockey in the Hood” – But is the Hood in Hockey?

“Hockey”, “cities”, and “minorities” are not words most commonly used in a sentence. When people think of the sport of hockey, they do not usually associate people of color in general with the game.

I come from a background that traditionally does not participate in winter sports. My parents hail from South America – where ice hardly even exists. The turnaround for my involvement in a winter sport came when I was growing up; despite being encouraged to do lady-like things, I went to a Washington Capitals game and fell in love with the sport of hockey. I learned everything about the Capitals and the entire sport, and within about a week's time, you would have thought I knew everything about the game. Since then, I have remained an avid fan of hockey and the Capitals.

Having lived in the DC-Metropolitan area, many assume that it is an anomaly for people of color to have an interest in the sport of hockey. It’s not too farfetched to guess either; according to the 2009 roster count in the NHL, there are only 25 black players out of the 700+ total players. That is a slight improvement from the 18 that were in the NHL in 2006. What many fail to realize, though, is that there is quite the following in the sport of hockey.

A long-time DC resident, Mike Lewis, identifies with being a Caps fan. He states that even as a black man, he has followed the team since the early days in the 1970s. Lewis stated that had he been given all the supplies to play hockey he would play it: “Probably if I was younger though.”

Lewis also shared his knowledge of the Capitals’ former black players. He knew of Donald Brashear, who played on the Capitals from the 2006-2007 season to the 2008-2009 season, and of the NHL’s second black player, Mike Marson, who played on the Capitals’ inaugural roster in 1974.

He did note a similar thought that many other people of color have expressed before: “If there were more black people in hockey I would watch hockey more.”

This issue of minimal minority players in the game is not because of the lack of effort from the NHL. Aside from their Hockey is for Everyone diversity program that created the 39 inner city institutions in North America, the NHL’s A.S.S.I.S.T. grant system provides $10,000 to the program that seems to have done the most in that year to make an impact on their players.

A player from the Fort Dupont ice hockey club in Southeast Washington, DC, Austin Palmer from St. Alban’s high school, commented on how the NHL does help their program.

“The NHL does enough to support our program,” says Austin. “They’ve donated a lot of money and time and they have the Hockey in the Hood tournament. We also practice with Alex Ovechkin, which is helpful to know that they care.”

Fort Dupont: the example

Being a hockey fan at an early age, I always heard about local hockey programs in the area. The Fort Dupont ice hockey program is the oldest minority program in the nation, founded in 1978. The founder, Neal Henderson, remains the head coach of the team.

At Fort Dupont, the team manager, Betty Dean, pointed out one man on the ice in particular, Ralph Featherstone. He began to play at Fort Dupont when he was in the 7th grade until he was admitted into the Naval Academy. He continued playing hockey there, playing on the Navy’s hockey team from his sophomore year, and becoming the team captain his senior year.

Featherstone has finished his collegiate career and after being stationed at various places around the country, he has returned to the DC-Metropolitan area. Now stationed at Quantico, Featherstone drives to Southeast Washington, DC every Monday and Wednesday for the Fort Dupont ice hockey practice to contribute back to his former program.

After practice, a few players spoke about their experiences in the program. They all had different reasons for joining the program in the first place.

Katherine Baker, a 6th grade center, simply thought that hockey was sport that was the most fun to her.

“I do play other sports,” she said, “but hockey seems like the most fun and energetic, and it takes a lot of work and ethic.”

Others mentioned that others got them into the sport of hockey.

Austin Palmer, from St. Alban’s High School said “I was 5, so I just started to play it since my friend got me into it.”

They take their hockey expertise on other teams than Fort Dupont as well. Austin plays at St. Alban’s and another player, Marc Ray, plays for Gonzaga High School’s program.

Austin seemed the most prepared for his path to continue hockey beyond high school, and hopes to play in college. When asked if he had aspirations to go into the NHL, he seemed positive.

“”Yes that would be nice; The NHL would be great,” said Austin. “I’m looking at Clemson, University of Virginia, UNC-Chapel Hill, Cornell, and Duke.”

His plan to get noticed by the NHL: “I’m going play really hard in college, play really well, and hopefully I will draw some attention.”

Katherine was also positive about her future plans involving hockey. When asked if she plans to play college hockey and to somehow make it into the NHL, she responded with an adamant, “Yes.”

“It’s going to take a lot of work and effort,” she said when asked how she plans to do that, “but I can do it.”

After hearing a couple more stories about former players on the Fort Dupont ice hockey club, speaking with current players, seeing how Henderson has remained deeply involved with the program, and their appreciation of the attention to the program, it became apparent that there is, in fact, an interest in the black community with the sport of hockey.

Fort Dupont is not the only place where a large group of inner city kids get the opportunity to play. There is the Ice Hockey in Harlem program, programs in South Philadelphia, and more to create the 39 total inner city programs throughout North America. If logic presented itself in this situation, there would have been a positive correlation between the number of inner city programs, and then number of minorities in hockey.

However, the statistics in the NHL do not support this evidence of a growing population of hockey players and fans in the minority community.

But there still are so few players of color in the NHL! Why?

So if the NHL is doing all in its power to help create young players of color for the future, then what is the problem?

John Drysdale, a sociology professor at American University, suggests that the lack of players of color in the NHL actually is founded in the lack of players in the college ranks. According to a study by the JBHE Foundation (a group of black sociologists), blacks make up only 2 tenths of 1 percent of the 3,500+ hockey players in college hockey.

Drysdale continued, “Most famous college hockey programs do not bother to venture into inner cities and into racially diverse areas. They tend to remain in well-known hockey regions, where the population will be mostly whites.”

Drysdale responded to the possibility of the lack of black role models in the sport of hockey causing young black players to become discouraged to continue on to play in the professional level and to even try for college level. He agreed with the idea, further stating that, “if there are only less than 20 black hockey players in the NHL and even fewer at the college level, then the odds of them getting to those ranks are very low.”

He expanded the statement, saying, “This is what pushes minority kids to move on to more popular sports among their community, where they feel as though have a better chance at going pro.”

With all of this in mind, and in trying to find out the DC Department of Parks and Recreation’s role in increasing the publicity of ice hockey in the city, they did not say much on how they support of hockey programs in the city.

“It’s rather difficult to support hockey programs because of our budget so we can only accommodate to the Fort Dupont club,” said communication director John Stokes of the department.

From the information gathered then, one can state that much as there is a general interest in the sport of hockey, and some support from the NHL, the problem of the lack of players of color seems to involve reasons that the NHL cannot control, like the lack of attention from college recruiters and city funding for more programs.

So is there anything that can increase the number of minorities in the game?

One solution that could help increase the numbers of minority players in hockey involves requiring college recruiting programs to have a minimum amount of players from a southern region. This move would allow different types of people with different styles of playing to become involved in hockey at a higher level. The same recruiting rule could be instituted for the NHL in scouting programs as well.

The result of seeing a more diverse group of hockey players various regions can provide others a new mindset to the game and a chance to seriously consider a career in ice hockey, seeing that the odds of them making it are much higher.

Either way, if the NHL really hopes to increase its numbers of minorities in the game, they will have to reach out to selecting players to show an example for others.

“It would be nice to see more,” said Austin from Fort Dupont, “It’s exciting, kind of inspiring to see more players of color in the game. I’m as inspired as you can get, but it wouldn’t hurt.”

If these programs aren't producing NHL pros, then what is their purpose

For now, these programs in inner cities can provide a place for young kids to have another choice for a sport to play, and for kids to just have fun, aside from being a place to help build potential profressionals.

As a product of the inner city hockey program in Fort Dupont, Featherstone spoke on what he learned from the program that helped him in his future experiences in hockey at the Naval Academy.

“It may be a little cliché, but Fort Dupont taught me teamwork, especially putting the team’s needs over self needs. I also was taught about hard work, and to keep on pushing when you’re tired.”

Also a current contributor to the hockey program, Featherstone explained the importance of Fort Dupont and how it serves the community.

“What drew me back to the program was the evolution,” he said about returning to help coach at Fort Dupont. “When I started to play, Fort Dupont was the only outlet for young black kids to play hockey and take part in the game.”

Featherstone added, “Now the program has grown so much. There are kids from all different backgrounds. There used to be only lower income kids who came in to play at Fort Dupont. Now there are kids from all kinds economic backgrounds; it’s much more diverse now.”

Conclusion...

The interest in ice hockey from inner city kids and people of color has been proven to exist. However, whether this interest that has increased over the years can be translated into a more diverse NHL has yet to be seen. Nonetheless, these programs should continue to grow and provide opportunities for kids from many different backgrounds to be exposed to such a great sport. After all, hockey IS, indeed, for everyone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Last Words...

Phew! This piece was a lot of work to construct. A lot of planning, phone calls, questions being answered (and being declined to be answered), writing, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing, re-writing, and more re-writing (like infinitely) went into this post. It was originally a "term article" for a class, but I figured it was interesting enough to expand upon.

Credits

I would like to thank the Fort Dupont ice hockey program for being so accomodating while I was there visiting and afterwards. Coach Neal Henderson and Team Manager Betty Dean were great, and I fully support what they've done to keep this great program running.

Also from the program was Ralph Featherstone, accepting to do an interview on short time, and the players mentioned in the article. I certainly wish them the best of luck in all that they do.

Thanks to my dad for driving me to Fort Dupont, and my mom for asking about the article. That means you read the first blog post! Thanks for reading!

Thanks to my people who read this article, helped me think it through, and who wanted to help even if you didn't get a chance to. Especially Jake Russell. I called Jake the day I thought about it and constructed the initial outline and contact list with him. This is why I call you my colleague and my "techinical other half" lol

Anyone else I left out, please hit me up and I will put you in, or at least be happy because you know who you are...

....I feel like I'm writing album thank yous. My apologies. Let me get back to business. Comments are welcomed, and please, this is a general assessment of the issues, so don't get all upset if I left something out.

Thanks for reading and PLEASE pass this along!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I'm back! One more post before the big one...

I'm back! Classes are over, and I have more time for you all! Still busy, but I'll do what I can.

While I was gone there have been some developments in the world that I did not comment on until this point. One included that Tiger Woods nonsense that belongs on E-hollywood or something like that, and not on ESPN.

I was hoping that it would just go away and that it would be this little incident that happened, and I wouldn't have to comment on it. But it hasn't. There have been some (meaning like 2) pieces of good analysis in a sports view on his "transgressions" and how that would affect things, in a moderate format. Unfortunately though, the women are now coming out of nowhere and keeping this story alive and making it sound more like a gossip story than sports.

I stole this plea to let these shenanigans go from my good friend, Marc Cowans from his Facebook page lol. It basically says everything that's needed to be said on the matter on a sports site... and I didn't feel like talking about it anymore.

"We deserve nothing. I cannot believe, nor do I understand, the American media
or blogosphere. Yes, I understand that Tiger has cheated on his wife, but in
light of true crime. But the questionable moral judgment from individuals like
Mark Sanford, Elliott Spitzer, and Bill Clinton deserves this level of
scrutiny much more than a man whose success we measure in fairways hit and the
number of colored jackets in his closet. Now that he has taken a leave of
absence, please let this story go. I wonder how low you want to see him go. smh
(shaking my head)"
So as you can see, sure, he did something awful and terrible. But it's not our place or the sports world place to pay attention to all the details. It doesn't affect our lives as it would if a politician was spending their time taking part in "transgressions" over fixing a bill or something.


It's not like Woods killed somebody. He cheated on his wife. He does NOT get a pass on this at all, and yes I am judging him in my head because as a woman, it's quite disgusting, going out
there doing any and every woman out there (and going bare? Really? That's asking for judgement)... I digress...

But for real, men, especially athletes, are going to cheat. I expect them to cheat anyway, but that's a personal problem. The story was relevant to the point that he got into a car accident and is okay. After that, it was superflouous. Please, leave the issue.

Ovie: too tough?

In lieu of Alexander Ovechkin’s recent suspension after a knee-on-knee hit on Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Tim Gleason, and a game misconduct in the previous game against the Sabres, many have begun to ask the question if Ovechkin’s playing style is too dirty. They question the fact that he’s the league’s highest scoring player, but plays a style of hockey that endangers not only others’ careers, but also his own career.

Far too often have people accused European players, especially Russians, of being too soft when they play, and that they are too afraid to make a hit on an opposing player. So now I find it extremely interesting that people are now complaining that Ovechkin is too rough and should tone it down.
Haha! This picture had me rolling on the floor.
So what the hell do these people want?!?!

As a Capitals fan, I would like to defend Ovechkin’s actions during these past few games and his overall style of hockey. Unfortunately, I can’t allow Ovechkin to make knee-on-knee hits on other players. Even his coach, Bruce Boudreau, isn't a huge fan of his recent acts of aggression. He calls his playing style “reckless”.

And of course it’s reckless! The worst part about his knee-on-knee hit was that Gleason wasn’t even hurt! Ovechkin was the one who was day-to-day with an injury from the hit. I fear that if Ovechkin were to continue playing with reckless abandon, he DOES, in fact, run the risk of giving himself a possibly career-ending injury. As the Capitals’ star player, the face of the NHL, and possibly one of the greatest to ever play in the NHL, that would be a DISASTER.

But do I necessarily want him to change his game? Not really... Yes, I would like Ovechkin to thinking about how he plans to make a hit, especially since now, the referees are going to scrutinize him. Ovechkin, being as big and strong as he is, should consider the force and angle at which he chooses to make a hit on an opposing player.

However, I am not going to ask him to stop being aggressive toward other players, and I want him to continue to deliver bone-crushing hits (cleanly). His badass-ness is what draws his fans in; his mixture of a European scoring touch and a North American sense of toughness.

People complain too much about Ovechkin. He's too tough, he's too cocky, he's too talkative, he's too fun, he hits too hard, why is he blocking shots, he's too direspectful, he's this, he's that. It's annoying! Why would people prefer the usual unmarketable hockey player?

Ovie's charisma, talent, style, and yes, craziness have all won over millions of fans. Even fans who couldn't convert to Caps fans are at least Ovechkin fans. He, alone, could keep the NHL alive among a wide audience. I definitely had a conversation last night with a guy from Kenya about Alex Ovechkin. How 'bout that!

He's refreshing to the league and its fans. We can't afford lose him to injury, but we also can't afford to diminish his star quality. I mean, Ovie is that guy that guys can have a man-crush on, but ladies can still love - yup, I said it. Aside from being an unconventional stud, that badass attitude when he says "No one can kill me" has us all hooked.

You wouldn't want to change that now, would you?

Week 14 Picks

Sunday
Saints over Falcons
Ravens over Lions (I wouldn't be surprised if it went the other way though)
Packers way over Bears
Texans over Seahawks
Colts over Broncos
Dolphins over Jaguars (always wanted to know, are there jaguars in Jacksonville?)
Sabres... I mean Bills over Cheifs
Vikings over Bengals (I want to watch this one)
Patriots barely over Panthers (because if they lose they'll have to go into time-out like a kindergartner... right Adalius Thomas?)

Jets over Buccaneers
Titans back, over Rams
Raiders over Redskins (Raiders look fly all of a sudden)

sigh... Chargers over Cowboys (don't say I don't have any faith in my team. I think Dallas has a shot if they play WELL. Dumb penalties aren't going to cut it.)

Eagles over Giants

Monday
Cardinals over 49'ers (surprise day maybe if the reverse happens?)

Finally...

The story will appear in the next post. Enjoy it! I hope it's somewhat informative. Apparently my professor loved it, so we'll see if you do, too.
There was an error in this gadget