by Keith Aksel
Like Alex last week, I also had difficulty deciding on a single “worst” thing to happen to football as a whole. I considered the 24/7 news cycle that makes mountains out of player tweets and molehills every day. I also considered the 1987 NFL players strike, the absurd 2011 LSU-Alabama BCS title game rematch, and the wide expansion of NCAA powers during the twentieth century. Instead, to my mind the worst thing to ever happen to football was something that didn’t actually occur- a consistent commitment to a semi-pro or minor league to serve as an alternative stepping stone to the NFL.
While basketball and baseball players have other career options besides attending college on their way to the big leagues (the NBA G League and minor league farm systems, respectively), football players who desire to compete professionally have really no options beyond college ball. College becomes a necessary part of nearly any prospective football player’s career path, regardless if they care about higher education. This reality has brought about all sorts of challenges, and the controversy over those challenges has mostly to do with the concept of amateurism. These debates are over a century old and counting.
by Alex Langer
Over the next few weeks here at The Tattered Pennant, we are taking a look at some of the worst things to ever happen to our favorite sports. Obviously, worst is an incredibly subjective idea, and many of you reading at home may disagree strongly with how we interpret the concept. This week, we’re talking Major League Baseball. It took me quite a while to come to a decision as to what was the worst thing to ever happen to baseball. At first, I thought of the "black sox" scandal of 1919, when several members of the Chicago White Sox conspired with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series. Then I thought about the rise in interleague play, especially in recent years. A friend of mine, who is a diehard NL fan, suggested that the designated hitter rule was the worst thing to happen to baseball in its history. As a fan of an American League squad, I disregarded this suggestion as foolishness at best, and heresy at worst.
In the end, the obvious choice was the right one: the largest scandal in recent baseball history, the so-called Steroid Era. The sins of the users during the era have been counted and pontificated on at length. As such, I feel little desire to go over them in detail here. Suffice it to say, from the late 1980s until the mid-2000s, a significant percentage of baseball players, including many of its stars, were using anabolic steroids and human growth hormone, either to recover from injuries, or make it possible to train harder than is/was typically possible. During the era, the home run (both single season and career) record fell, as did numerous other records. The home runs came fast and went far, and baseball's popularity, tarnished by the 1994 Players' Strike, was perhaps never higher than during the height of the Steroid Era. This popularity was only matched by the soul-searching the MLB and its fans went through as the breadth of the problem was slowly acknowledged.
by Chris Foss
As the latest NBA draft class was announced in late June and ESPN college basketball analyst Andy Katz read off the draftees’ platitudes and ran through their career highlights, I was struck, as I am every year, by an inescapable conclusion. Some of these players might be stars, some could have fairly decent careers, yet most will be busts who leave the league within a few years. Even Markelle Fultz and Lonzo Ball, the most heralded choices in the draft, know that they aren’t necessarily guaranteed to be superstars. Since the NBA draft became a big deal when it became televised, the league has seen its share of its celebrated draft headliners turn into busts, from Greg Oden and Michael Olowokandi to Kwame Brown and Pervis Ellison. These names are relatively well-known to NBA fans as busts who have had trouble shaking the shadows of their would-be fame. Today’s busts could learn, however, from the life of a once-heralded player from the NBA’s relatively-forgotten 1970s timeframe, a Chicagoan named LaRue Martin.
When I was a little boy and the number two came up, sometimes my dad would sometimes yell out “Two for LaRue!” For years, I had no clue what he was talking about, nor was I even curious. Then when I was ten years old, I got a copy of Steve Cameron’s book Rip City! for my birthday. This celebration of the Blazers’ 25th anniversary covered Blazers highlights and lowlights, including, I noticed, a brief discussion of a guy named LaRue Martin. I asked my dad if this had anything to do with “Two for LaRue!” He explained to me that when he was a young man listening to Blazers radio broadcasts, announcer Bill Schonely would sarcastically yell out “Two for LaRue!” every time Martin scored. Turns out Schonely was pretending to celebrate the unfortunately rare occasions—typically in garbage time—when Martin would finally get a basket. As a result, I began to wonder what happened to LaRue.
by Keith Aksel
What are college football teams to do when they leave a conference full of age-old rivals? Over the past few seasons, major college football has experienced realignment and conference expansion on the largest order since the 1990s. The result has been interesting, if for no other reason but that the new alignment pushed old rivalries to the far-back burner. The movements have also put some teams in a weird limbo position in which they don’t really have a true rival at all in their new leagues.
The process that follows is one that observers usually never talk about: the slow-burn emergence of new rivalries. The rivalry remains an important part of being a sports fan. Your team’s rivals become your rivals, leading you to a lifetime of eye rolls when you find that a new acquaintance attended your school’s arch-nemesis from across the state. The process of a team becoming a rival often completes before we were born, which is why the potential for new rivalries in this day and age is one worth paying your full attention; it doesn’t happen every day.