Friday, December 17, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Arsene Wenger's contract extension

"Let me begin this by saying I truly respect and admire Arsene Wenger. He’s the winningest manager in Arsenal history, has kept our club competitive and relevant despite constructing a new stadium, and continues to unearth top notch talent from all over the globe to wear the red and white. I am not a member of either extremist fan group that both lauds and lambasts our manager. I do not blindly support. It’s not in my blood. And I don’t blindly hate either. 'In Arsene We Trust' and 'In Arsene We Rust' are not factors in my fandom, they are zealous slogans for anxious fans. So it is with great reluctance and respect in mind that I write this article.

"It’s not easy to bring up Arsene Wenger as a writer. One word about the esteemed manager and you have both sides of the extreme piling on with their own versions of scripture. Piss off, he’s the best thing to happen to football since cleats. Piss off, he’s the devil incarnate trying to run the club into the ground. Et cetera, et cetera. I understand the fans on both sides, I really do, I understand how the believers resort to context, to historical fact, to calm their fears and their fellow fans. I also understand the cynics who see the club going into on-field ruins under the stubborn, penny-pinching manager and his unwavering philosophies. I understand everyone’s concerns (or non-concerns), but I think the extremists on both sides are missing the point."


Monday, November 22, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Great expectations, analyzing the Spurs defeat

Another home loss for Arsenal, this time to freaking Tottenham (of all the teams, sigh). The one thing I realized, as I watched in horror as Arsenal surrendered a 2-0 half-time lead and lost 3-2, was how strangely expectations can shift during a match. In one moment, I'm dreaming of a DVD-worthy 6-0 win, the next, I'm clinging to life and desperate for points. Ah, the life of an Arsenal fan.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> The Toffees, Nicklas Bendtner and the Wenger affair

With the international break in full swing, it's time to get caught up on all things Arsenal. Let's discuss Arsenal's powerful 2-1 win over Everton, Nicklas Bendtner's plea for more playing time, and a saucy French love affair? Oui?


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Dave Niehaus, the passing of a legend

Sad day today for Mariners fans; really baseball fans in general. Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Seattle Mariners, Dave Niehaus, passed away today. But I'm not the type of person who dwells on sadness, so I will keep this bright and brief. My life has been filled with great memories, for as long as I have memories about baseball, because of Dave Niehaus. Today is a celebratory day, and tomorrow will be the same as we get to listen to some of Dave's greatest calls on the radio all day (you could argue he made every call great). Dave taught me how to win and how to lose with equal dignity, and his booming voice will be missed in the broadcast booth. I can't wait to one day play back his calls for my kids.

My, oh my.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Arsenal, the car that needs immediate fixing

After every loss, Arsene Wenger talks about Arsenal's inability to get out of "first gear." Maybe it's time we took the car in and got that check engine light looked at, eh?


Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Charlie Whitehurst experiment (as featured on Seahawk Addicts)

The scientific method relies on testing. If you don't test, you can never know if your theories, your hypotheses, are valid. It's the basis of all science, testing, and without it, we'd be left with an empirically-stagnant understanding of the world around us.

I don't know if Charlie Whitehurst is a good quarterback. He is an unknown variable, an untested theory. Pete Carroll and John Schneider, the Seahawks head coach and general manager, respectively, don't know that either. No amount of reps in practice or the classroom, hypotheticals at best, can accurately test whether or not Charlie Whitehurst is a good quarterback. We just don't know, nobody knows. What we do know is that the Seahawks gave up a lot to get him, both in picks and financially, signing Whitehurst to a two-year $10 million deal that expires at the end of next season. We paid a lot of money to not test a theory thus far, and, in science, you'd have your grant taken away.

What we also know is Matt Hasselbeck. We know exactly what we're going to get from Hasselbeck. 50-60% completions. 150-200 yards. 1-2 touchdowns. 1-2 turnovers. And a whole lot of panicky dives to the carpet under pressure. It was just announced today that, due to a "concussion" sustained last week against the Raiders, Hasselbeck is headed to the bench in favor of the non-concussed Whitehurst. My only question is: What took so long? Yes, we were winning (kinda), yes Hasselbeck had done what the coaches asked after a miserable start and managed his turnovers (kinda), but we were winning despite #8, we were winning because of defense and special teams. Why weren't the Seahawks testing their theory, the Whitehurst theory, to know if they had something special.

It's really easy to play it safe in the NFL. Most coaches do it to save their jobs. It's a lot easier to get fired for being crazy than it is for being conservative, and NFL coaches know that. It's why they don't go for it very often on 4th down, it's why they take a knee to end the half instead of launching a hail mary, and it's why they stick with the quarterback who can "manage the game." Just as NFL coaches have saved their jobs playing it safe, a lot of quarterbacks have done the same. But for this Seahawks team, the quarterback position is so much more important because of the critical timeline ahead. With Whitehurst's contract already running down before he's even thrown a pass in the league, with Hasselbeck's contract expiring at the end of this season, and with an upcoming NFL Draft stocked with high-profile quarterbacks, this is the time to put our experiment to the test.

Hasselbeck's concussion, real or not, should be the gateway to this profound scientific experiment. When Hasselbeck recovers, Whitehurst needs to remain the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks for potentially the remainder of the year. One game isn't enough to come to a proper conclusion (in science or in sports, ever). Running one test in a lab is never going to be enough for science, and for a young quarterback getting his first real shot to show off his strong arm and needed athleticism, he needs more than just one fill-in game for an aging, struggling quarterback. He needs a real test, a real, sustained test against multiple opponents inside and outside the division, showing different defenses and working with adjustments on the offense. Charlie Whitehurst needs to be put through the NFL ringer. We need to know what he is, if he can be a great quarterback or if he's a lifetime back-up ... either way, we need to know, because this has implications not only on this year, but on the long-term success of the franchise.

If he comes in and can't figure out the offense in a series of live games, if he can't complete passes or is too scared to stay upright, we already know what our other variable is going to bring (Hasselbeck) and can switch back without any impact to the team's chances to win games. If he can't cut it at this level, we should know. Not in practice (to quote Allen Iverson), not in the film room, but in real games. There's no excuse not to test him, especially when our current quarterback isn't contributing to the overall success of the team. This is a win-win situation for the franchise. We can find out, once and for all, what we have, what we gave up so much to get, in Charlie Whitehurst, and can also start planning for the future, either with Whitehurst at the helm or targeting one of the great QB prospects in the 2011 NFL Draft.

This Whitehurst start should be the beginning of something, not the Band-Aid for a wounded veteran. An untested hypothesis is a pointless hypothesis, and the Seattle Seahawks now have a wonderful opportunity to finally reach evidence-based conclusions on the future of the franchise. I like Matt Hasselbeck, I think he's been a great servant of the Seahawks, but this is a league built around strong-armed, athletic quarterbacks. Hasselbeck is neither. And if Whitehurst can be that guy, the Seahawks have no excuse not to find out.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> I love you, Alex Song

After Alex Song's last-gasp winner against West Ham on Sunday, I'm feeling a lot of love for our Cameroonian midfielder.

Come on Arsenal!

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Lukasz Fabianski dishes out some humble pie

Lukasz Fabianski has an unfortunate/hilarious nickname for a goalkeeper. But after his recent string of quality displays in goal for Arsenal, maybe it's time "Flappyhandski" is retired.

As always, send in your questions by clicking "E-mail Erik" to the right and be in the next Q&A.

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Sergio Leone, Spaghetti Westerns, and Arsenal-Birmingham

I finally found a use for my international film degree ... sportswriting! See how Arsenal's 2-1 victory over Birmingham City lined up with the master of the spaghetti Western, Sergio Leone.


Friday, October 15, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Top 5 reasons why Arsenal can still with the league

Let's all take a big, deep breath and realize that the season has just begun for Arsenal. We still can win the Premier League this year, and here's five reasons why!


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Profits vs. performance, a post-Chelsea reflection

After the heart-wrenching 2-0 loss on the road to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, a club diametrically opposed to Arsenal’s business and football models, I’m ready for a change. Isn't there more to sports than profit?

Click E-mail Erik to the right to submit your question and be in the next Q&A!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Statistics sack Hasselbeck

To claim that Matt Hasselbeck is an elite quarterback is wrong. I'm sorry, Seahawks fans, I know how hard it is for you to hear that, it's hard for me to say it too, but it's time for Seattle to make a change.

The Seahawks have made philosophical changes in every area of the team except quarterback. They've dramatically turned over the roster, offensively and defensively, to bring in more talented, athletic, competitive players. They've done the same with the coaching staff, who bring modern NFL experience and strategies to the table. And yet the long-standing, short-pass beacon of the Mike Holmgren past still remains, battling away with a skill set that doesn't match the new offense or the evolution of NFL defenses.

He may have been an elite quarterback in the past, he may have been the torchlight that carried the Seahawks into the Super Bowl five years ago, and he's rightfully earned a lot of respect and admiration for the quarterback he was and the success he brought to the Seattle Seahawks, but that Matt Hasselbeck is long gone. Or, perhaps, he's simply the same quarterback he was five years ago, only the rest of the league has evolved past him, offensively and defensively.

I like Hasselbeck, and I think he's been a great player and great spokesman for the Seahawks for the last decade. But sports fans, especially Seattle sports fans, tend to let those moral and personal relationships with players excuse them from fair criticism. Hasselbeck isn't cutting it, and at any other franchise in the NFL, other than the Minnesota Vikings who are dealing with their own struggling, grandfathered veteran QB, a change would've been made. Pete Carroll says the team needs to earn everything, to always compete, and he's lived up to that with high-profile benchings and surprising roster moves, but that same ruthlessness isn't being extended to the failing quarterback.

Don't believe me? Think this is the knee-jerk reaction after a tough road loss against a team we should've beat? It's not. This is straight-up statistics. I spent the better part of Sunday night hawking over NFL quarterback statistics, filtering out all back-up/part-time QBs and any non-QB player who's thrown a pass. What I ended up with were the "starters," the 32 starting QBs from all NFL rosters thus far, and statistical proof of Hasselbeck's issues.

Matt Hasselbeck is the third-oldest QB in the league, I only mention that because, out of all QBs in the NFL over the age of 30, only Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Tony Romo, and, of course, the resurgent Michael Vick have a QB rating over the league average of ~85. Matt Hasselbeck's QB rating of 70.7 puts him 27th out of 32 available starters. Seneca Wallace has a higher rating than #8 so far this season. Just throwing that out there.

But QB Rating doesn't really tell the full story about where Hasselbeck stands. Hasselbeck is getting opportunities to throw the ball, he's 15th in the league in attempted passes this year, ahead of some great throwers (Aaron Rodgers, Donovan McNabb, Tom Brady, etc.), but his conversion percentage on those attempts, the so-called "accuracy" that people have used for years to excuse Hasselbeck's lack of arm strength, is only 61.1%, putting him 19th on the board. Combine that mediocre completion percentage with the arm strength issue -- Hasselbeck is 23rd in the league in yards per attempt (6.5 Y/A) and 27th in the league in adjusted yards per attempt (5 AY/A), which weighs in touchdowns and interceptions, of which Hasselbeck is 25th and 7th respectively -- and what we have is a seriously underperforming quarterback. Even when he does complete a pass, he still isn't gaining statistically-prevalent yardage compared to his peers: He's 21st in yards per game (203.5 Y/G) and 26th in yards per completion (10.6 Y/C).

Would that cut it anywhere else but here?

Yes, he's the vocal leader on and off the field. Yes, he's the talisman of the Seattle Seahawks, the so-called "best quarterback" in franchise history. But he's lost his pocket composure after years of bad offensive lines in front of him, and it's impacting his performance on the field. You can't, as a quarterback, be scared of being sacked. You just can't. Nearly every touchdown I've seen this year from QBs all around the league have shown a strong, confident player standing tall in the pocket and delivering, despite pressure or contact around him. Hasselbeck usually sacks himself when he feels pressure, diving to the ground once he feels a hand or a breath on his neck. You can't blame him, he's been banged up for years behind bad offensive lines, but you can't sacrifice the offense in a sea of excuses (legitimate or not).

I'm still convinced Matt Hasselbeck is the same quarterback he was five years ago, but with the growth and evolution of NFL defenses and the emergence of the modern, deep-threat offense that's dominating this league, it's time for Pete Carroll to open up the competition at the quarterback spot, just like he did with every other position on his roster. Hasselbeck's performance shouldn't be cutting it, this team shouldn't be 2-2 and tied for first place the NFC West, but thanks to gut-check defense and stunning special teams, we're still alive. But survivalism tends to mask reality, and the Seattle Seahawks may be better off with someone else at quarterback.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> The Arsenal Q&A #2!

"It’s time for another Arsenal Q&A! Last month we had a doozy of an opener, like a shot of whisky at six in the morning on St. Patrick’s Day (been there, done that), debating the finer points of statistical analysis and Alan Hansen’s frothy mouth. I had a seriously great time reading and responding to your questions last month, and, sure enough, the Gunning Hawk community stepped up with another round of tough questions over the past four weeks

I really appreciate those of you who took the time to send in questions. If you want to send in a question for next month’s Q&A, shoot me an e-mail with your first name, city, and country. And, of course, a question. Otherwise what’s the point? Now, on to the Q&A!"


Monday, September 27, 2010

In praise of the 12th Man (as featured on Seahawk Addicts)

"I used to regale my wife with stories of Chicago sports. Of Soldier Field. Of Cubs fans in summer. Of Sox fans yelling at Cubs fans in summer. And, in comparison, we have the normally stale, “family-friendly” environments of Seattle sports that have always diluted the experience for me. But as we walked toward Qwest Field, thinking we were getting to the stadium so early parking would be a breeze, I saw that same intensity, that same passion in Seahawks fans that I thought only existed in other cities. At 10 a.m., half the city was drunk, cooking brats on full grills and watching the morning games on satellite television. I was blown away. It felt like Chicago. It felt like those heralded, almost legendary Bears fans. But it was Seattle."

The Gunning Hawk >> When squad players attack!

Winning the Premier League has to be Arsenal's number one priority, and depending on squad players in any league match just isn't going to cut it, as we saw this past weekend with Arsenal's stunning 3-2 home loss against newly-promoted West Bromwich Albion.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> I love when you talk dirty, Arsene

 Oh to be a Gooner! Thumping the Spurs 4-1 at White Hart Lane was an absolute delight, but hearing from Arsene Wenger that the team can't use inexperience as an excuse anymore put me over the top.

Click "E-mail Erik" to the right to submit your questions and be in the next Q&A!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Quick Takes - LeBron James, keeping it classy

Whether you agree with LeBron's decision to go to Miami or not, just don't forget what a stand-up guy he is.

Thanks for catching this, ESPN. Surprised you didn't burn the tape.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Does playing for Arsenal still motivate Andrey Arshavin?

After a season filled with lacklustre performances, I'm starting to wonder if Andrey Arshavin still loves to play the beautiful game. Would he rather go back to Russia where the game is easier?


Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> A lifelong Gooner shares his story

I had the opportunity to interview Bob Bennett, a lifelong Arsenal fan, now 65 years old and living in New Zealand, who recounted his tales of Highbury and winning trophies. Come on Arsenal!


Monday, September 13, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Is Alex Song Arsenal's most important player?

Alexandre Song, Arsenal's barrel-chested defensive midfielder, put on a show against Bolton this past Saturday. Is he the most important player to don the Arsenal shirt? Is the expansion of his role and skills into a more aggressive attacking player so important that it can influence the match more than anyone else?

As always, send in your questions by clicking E-mail Erik and be in the next Q&A!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> How Arsenal destroyed anti-football

Arsenal went toe-to-toe with Blackburn this weekend, a team designed to beat them. So how exactly did the Gunners neutralize Blackburn's "anti-football" tactics and walk away from Ewood Park with a 2-1 victory? Here's how ...


Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> The inaugural Arsenal Q&A!

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the dramatic unveiling of the inaugural Arsenal Q&A!

Enjoy! And of course, send in your own questions to Sports Tzu by clicking "E-mail Erik" to the right, or send in your Arsenal questions through The Gunning Hawk.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Arsenal fans, are you ready for a war?

With so much stuff going on around Arsenal right now, my normally neat and tidy bucket of brain LEGOs has been dumped on the floor. In an attempt to save myself from football-induced psychosis, I've decided to tackle all of it at once! Blackpool, Squillaci, Frimpong, Mel Gibson, and other hilarious words will now be sorted into their proper color-coded bins.

Come on Arsenal!

Friday, August 20, 2010

HBO provides some "Hard Knocks" for crappy parents, analysts

Rex Ryan likes to swear.

He does it with a cheeky smile on his face, using the F-word like a painter uses a brush, with confidence and flair. He is an auteur of cursing, and, thanks to HBO's reality series "Hard Knocks," which follows around a new NFL team every year as it prepares for the upcoming season, the unsuspecting ears of the nation have been hit with a barrage of Rex Ryan's creative use of the English language.

Let me make this clear: I love to swear. It's cathartic, it's fun, it makes me feel good. Swearing is, in my humble opinion, the only way for normal people to stay sane. Someone cuts you off in traffic? "!@%&; you!" ... Your favorite sports team gives up a goal? "Aw, come the !#%& on!" ... Your other favorite sports team gets hijacked and moved to Oklahoma City? "@$%! off, rednecks!"

See? Catharsis.

My mom doesn't believe in swearing, so she's invented her own secret gibberish language to be able to swear without actually saying any swear words, which I still think totally counts. Even without saying real words, my mom is using the same theories put in place by the great swearers of our time (Scarface, 13-year-old kids on Xbox Live, etc.) to maintain composure in an increasingly-effed-up world. Swearing is a release.

So for an NFL coach to swear, someone who faces high-pressure, high-stakes situations under a constant microscope from 24-hour news networks and increasingly-impatient ownership, surrounded by horde of insubordinate, prima donna athletes making millions of dollars (and babies), makes a lot of sense sometimes. We know people swear, we know coaches swear, so where in the !%$# has the sudden outcry against Rex Ryan's colorful vocabulary come from?

Tony Dungy, one of the "distinguished emissaries" of the NFL, has become somewhat of a holy figure within the league thanks to his soft voice and public Christianity. Dungy, who helped the Indianapolis Colts win the Super Bowl as a head coach, is a man who's leveraged his media platform into a preacher's podium to admonish the wrongs of the NFL and its players. He's tutored Michael Vick back from the depths of prison, he's worked with Ben Roethlisberger after Big Ben was suspended by the NFL for six games for sexual abuse. He's basically sent out by the NFL to clean up messes (like the Wolf in "Pulp Fiction"), and deserves all the credit and respect in the world for taking on that charge to help athletes find the right path. But for Dungy to publically come out against Rex Ryan's use of "foul" language is so absurdly hypocritical that it, well, almost makes you want to swear.

The NFL is a league built around violence. Players have to wear pads because they hit each other so hard and so often that their bones and bodies couldn't handle the punishment without space age padding wrapped around every square inch of their bodies. Fights break out in training camp, like the one LeGarrette Blount just participated in, with such regularity that sports anchors laughingly shout "Training camp's kicked off!" while the NFL coaches shrug them off. Training camp fights are celebrated, not admonished in some holier-than-thou outcry for the protection of our morality and values, because it shows the tenacity and competitiveness that helps teams win championships. Ask any coach in the league what they want out of their offensive line. Ask any coach in the league what adjective he hopes describes his defense. Nasty, tenacious, aggressive. The sport is violent, and that's why people watch it. People like big hits, they like concussions, they like when the smelling salts come out. It's the same reason why Mixed Martial Arts is pushing boxing into oblivion. Something MORE violent? Americans are saying, "Yes please!" That doesn't make it right, the moral argument is one that isn't really for me to discuss, it's just the truth, the sport is violent and celebrated because of that. But, of course, people are okay with it. Tony Dungy built a career around a it. But swearing on an HBO documentary series about that violent sport isn't okay.

Even more important than the violent aspect of it ... ATHLETES SWEAR. Anyone who's ever been to a professional sporting event or watched one on TV has seen, heard (and re-seen and re-heard when the replays show it in slow motion) athletes swearing! Coaches swearing! Owners swearing! Fans swearing! EVERYBODY SWEARS at sporting events. Morality arguments aside, that's just the way it is. If ESPN can mic-up a coach and jokingly say, "That was the one clip we had that we could air!", the culture of swearing is clearly a part of sports. So much is on the line for these people, so much is on the line for the fans, that, sometimes, people just let the expletives fly. Sure, athletes and coaches are supposed to be role models blah blah blah, but it always comes down to the parents. Parents are the real role models (or should be), parents are the ones who should establish the rules, and if a child is incapable of handling a swear word without immediately turning into Howard Stern, that's a reflection on the parents. And, if a parent is incapable of protecting his/her children from Rex Ryan's mouth on an adult TV show on an adult TV network, they clearly haven't read the Comcast instruction manual.

Mike Greenberg, of ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning," launched into his own sermon Friday morning about how Rex Ryan isn't being a good representative of the "NFL shield." Greenberg thinks that, because Ryan's swearing is now featured on a private, adult cable television show, intended for adults, slapped with a "TV-MA" warning, and blatantly designed to show the underbelly of the NFL that isn't always shown on ESPN's made-for-TV, cupcake broadcasts, that Ryan somehow isn't living up to the standards of the league. The same league that purports violence, slaps light fines and suspensions on players who abuse illegal steroids and their wives, and employs convicted drug dealers and killers. Despite all of that, Greenberg said, because of Rex Ryan's swearing, he couldn't show it to his kids even though he wanted to, and other parents were e-mailing in to echo his sentiments.

Okay, wow, where to start ...

Parents are okay showing their kids the hyper-violent side of the NFL, watching Antonio Cromartie labor over the names and ages of his eight kids (from seven mothers ... no joke), players literally fighting over "respect" like prison inmates, and the ruthless side of the NFL as injured players are cut the day after picking up brutal injuries, BUT they can't handle the F-word?! Are you serious? Tony Dungy's okay building a career off of other peoples' violence, but he's not okay with a fellow coach swearing? Let's step down from the pedestal, people.

There's a lot of grey area in this topic, what role the media plays in making athletes and coaches role models, what responsibility parents have for their kids, what responsibility other fans have to make the environment safe and friendly for children as well. There's a lot of grey area and, when it comes down to it, making sporting events accessible for kids should be a goal of every organization across the world. And, in fairness, it IS a goal for every organization! That's why we have mascots and family days and ice cream and bobbleheads (oh my). It's how you build loyalty and legacy fans. It's how you get more money out of families for generations! Owners and organizations understand that and do everything in their power to exploit the "family" experience. But do you then dilute the experience for adults so that kids can participate too? Or do you just tell your kids, "Hey, some people are going to swear during this game, I just don't want you using those words, okay?" Do you censor yourself, your coaches, your athletes from being emotional and expressive? Do you realize that all of this overblown nonsense is happening on HBO and that nothing on that channel is intended for your 12-year-old Pop Warner quarterback?

Maybe it's time to clean up our priorities, not our mouths.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> One nation, under Arsenal

Does your nationality determine how much you can appreciate football? Some people think it does, I tend to disagree.

Send in your questions (both sports and non-sports) to be in the next Q&A!

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Arsenal's embarrassing opener

Arsenal traveled to Anfield for the Premier League opener Sunday with high hopes for a trophy-filled season. After a lucky 1-1 draw, a man up for a full half but only scoring on a Liverpool own goal at the death, Arsenal fans are scrambling for answers (and some serious reinforcements) just one week into the year.

Come on Arsenal!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

ESPN is the new MTV

You know The Buggles song, "Video Killed the Radio Star"? That song, and it's subsequent music video, became the first video released by MTV when the television network launched in 1981, forever changing the face of music and musical entertainment. Singers were no longer just listened to, they became a spectacle, eye-candy that blossomed the careers of musicians around the world. MTV loved music, pushed music, and wanted people not to just fall in love with the songs themselves, but with the strange, beautiful, and bizarre characters who created them.

For years, MTV was the beacon of the music industry, showing nothing but music videos pumped out and celebrated by VJs -- like a radio show for your eyes. When a band's video made it to MTV, it signaled an extraordinary up-leveling in their career from indie unknown to pop culture sensation. MTV defined music, and, in turn, defined pop culture (styles, sayings, everything). A simple television show was having a profound impact on the world. Directors started seeing music videos as a global platform to perfect and perform their art, and marketers saw those same videos as a way to reach millions of people with advertising, messages, and commercial branding. MTV was where people went to know what was cool and important to them.

Then the 1990s hit, and as the decade screamed toward Y2K, the focus and purpose of MTV took a monumental shift. Network executives decided to focus less on, well, "music television," and more on exploiting the demographics of the people who watched it: Young, impressionable consumers. MTV launched a host of reality TV series, scripted shows, and rebroadcast movies that gutted the music-centric programming and filled it with brain trash ultimately designed to expand the MTV "brand" deeper and deeper into the lives of its viewers. Goodbye Michael Jackson, hello Jessica Simpson. Goodbye Bruce Springsteen, hello "Jersey Shore." Goodbye Black Sabbath, hello "The Osbournes." Goodbye music, hello reality TV.

With that shift came enormous criticism from people within the music industry and like-minded citizens who wondered where their music videos had gone. The music had become secondary to self-promotion and mindless sensationalism from the network and its sponsors; sounds and songs had been replaced with a sales pitch. Mainstream music changed to match the network; while talent dwindled, the spectacle of celebrity exploded thanks to MTV. Music had lost a major ally, and a huge division formed in the industry between "entertainers" and "musicians," facilitating the uprising of the indie scene and self-publishing for major artists sick of the MTV-perpetuated culture. MTV is still relevant and important, but not for what it was designed and purposed to be. It was meant to bring music into homes across the globe, providing more than the radio experience, but making the artists tangible, vulnerable, amazing. Instead, they became the afterthought. The music wasn't important anymore, just the spectacle.

Two years prior to the formation of MTV, another television network started, a little 24-hour sports network called ESPN. TV executives all destined ESPN for doom, stating there was no interest, no market from the masses, for non-stop sports. People read the newspaper, watched their local teams on local channels, there was no need for tireless, ad nauseum coverage of the sports world. Luckily for sports fans, they were wrong. ESPN grew and grew, gaining credibility on the hard-working backs of transitioned journalists and investigative reporters who took an inside look at sports in a way that had never been done before. This hard news, often tongue-in-cheek approach to sports coverage set ESPN apart from its competitors. Just like MTV initially won over a market by appreciating and sharing music the "right" way, ESPN mirrored that sentiment with SportsCenter and its brilliant coverage of live games and events.

It turned out there was a hungry market for the 24-hour sports news cycle, and as ESPN secured lucrative contracts with all the major professional sports leagues across the country in the 1990s and 2000s, the consumption of ESPN's services became a lesson in exponential mathematics. Their market grew, their coverage grew, and their wallets really grew (over $400 million in ad revenue alone each year), entering into lucrative partnerships with ABC and Disney and expanding overseas with the ESPN brand. ESPN began to consume the sports world and all it contained.

There is no competition for ESPN in sports television, just as there's no real competition in the music industry for MTV. There's no alternative, so the power these companies own is unshielded. The radiation was leaking, but the execs and anchors were too busy counting their money and patting themselves on the back to care. They say with great power comes great responsibility, but for MTV and ESPN, great power came with the opportunity to take advantage of the audience and methodically change the expectations of the consumer. Forget listening to music, watch reality TV instead. Forget watching sports, listen to our anchors talk about themselves instead.

Thirty years later, ESPN has emerged as the self-appointed "Worldwide Leader in Sports" with more than 10 dedicated sports channels, radio presence in nearly every major market, an award-winning magazine, and a handful of global Web sites that all receive millions of viewers, listeners, and hits per day. And, while MTV was defining youth pop culture, ESPN was defining sports pop culture the same way. The ESPN name and its anchors started showing up in sports movies, Saturday Night Live, and late night talk shows. The tough journalists were thinned out for young, beautiful TV hosts who looked better on camera than the grizzled veterans who founded the network. Sports broadcasters replaced writers and reporters, and the network itself lost its once-defining journalistic edge. Gone were the hardcore investigative pieces and critical analysis; in its place arrived sideline Barbies and incessant, blowhard coverage of only the biggest and baddest sports teams in the world. If you weren't a fan of a major market team, sorry, look elsewhere. Oh wait, there's nowhere else to look, so watch this highlight package of the Yankees and LeBron James.

The programming itself changed as well as the network moved into less live sports and focused heavily on self-promoting TV shows, self-promoting anchors, and even scripted dramas and made-for-TV movies. Instead of tuning in to ESPN to watch a game, you had to watch their people tell you their interpretations of games you didn't have the opportunity to watch because they were too busy pushing themselves onto the screen. ESPN had gone to bed with the people and teams it was supposed to be covering objectively, pushing forward promotions designed and orchestrated by the teams and leagues with shameful ignorance. It didn't matter though, they were becoming a financial juggernaut.

They stopped caring about sports and focused on growing their ESPN brand even more, embedding themselves in the world of pop culture and celebrity reporting like immature kids trying to prove they were popular. ESPN was shifting from sports coverage into sports entertainment coverage (which, granted, we should've seen coming from its name alone). Just when it seemed like ESPN couldn't alienate the core it had originally set-out to provide for, it began buddying-up with the biggest athletes, coaches, and executives in professional sports, forever altering its ability to properly and objectively cover them. It all culminated in the last 12 months with the absurd, TMZ-style coverage of the Tiger Woods affairs and the decision to let LeBron James (Inc.) hold the network hostage for an hour to announce his free agency destination.

The MTV path has been followed almost to a T.

And, on top of all that, ESPN began competing with itself to break stories. Screw investigation, screw sources and confirmations (all the stuff the prior journalistic regime vowed by), all that mattered to ESPN anchors and writers, who had basically become self-perpetuated celebrities by the network that featured them as such, was becoming famous. That's what ESPN has become now, a place for the non-famous, non-athlete anchors and "analysts" to become famous. Catch-phrases, commercials, "as reported by ESPN's ..." all come down to a greedy, self-entitled network trying to push itself further into the reaches of mainstream pop culture. And these anchors and reporters don't actually care if they're right, they don't need to be, they just need to be first. That's the network design: Be first. Not be accurate, not be fair, not be smart, not be balanced ... just be first. And as many mistakes and criticisms they've received for inaccurate, morally ambiguous, slanderous coverage, they refuse to change. They refuse to reevaluate their journalistic ethics and integrity ... that just slows down their fame.

For ESPN, being the "Worldwide Leader in Sports" isn't enough anymore. Being in every home, car, and computer from morning to night is what ESPN wants, and the only way they know to do it is through superficial gimmicks, masturbatory coverage, and news prostitution (if it bleeds it leads) that competes with the few remaining strands of trend-setting pop culture that exist today. ESPN's competition is no longer Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, or ABC's Wide World of Sports, it's now TMZ, CNN, and, really, itself.

And just like MTV's abandonment of its fans spawned a generation of indie kids and underground music that reinvigorated the true essence of music and culture, ESPN has spawned popular "indie" sports sites (like Deadspin) and revolutionized sports blogs that essentially sundered the newspaper world into oblivion. More people read blogs and sites dedicated to their specific teams than ESPN because they can't get anything but the upper crust of coverage there. ESPN has pushed true sports fans away in an attempt to win over the hearts and minds of everyone, and true sports fans have responded by latching onto satellite writers and sites who actually care about giving them honest, researched news and analysis.

ESPN was supposed to make watching sports better, just like MTV was supposed to make listening to music better. But, at this point, all they've done is alienate and strangulate the fans they were originally created to serve. Video killed the radio star, and ESPN killed the sports fan.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Your new home for Match Day: Arsenal Interactive

The Gunning Hawk family is growing with the launch of "Arsenal Interactive!" Check it out and be ready for the season opener on Sunday!

Also, send in your questions (both sports and non-sports) by clicking "E-mail Erik" to be in the next Q&A!

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> Barcelona, your tears taste so good

It's official! Cesc Fabregas is staying with Arsenal. Our captain released a statement through the club last week announcing his return to the Gunners, so I thought it was only fitting to analyze and immortalize those words (sometimes I worry I'm starting to sound like Kanye West ... need to stop ironically-reading his Twitter feed before I go crazy).


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Gunning Hawk >> The Best & Worst of Arsenal's preseason

Five games, four wins. It may just be the preseason, but things are looking great for Arsenal less than two weeks away from the Premier League opener against Liverpool! YES I'M EXCITED. I run through the Best & Worst of the preseason, with one match remaining at Legia Warsaw (can we give Fabianski back? No? Shoot ...)

Click E-mail Erik to the right and send in your questions (both sports and non-sports) to be in the next Q&A!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Buzz Bissinger is my illegitimate father

I just felt compelled to share this. Listen to Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "Friday Night Lights" and a more-recent book about LeBron (apparently a LeBron autobiography, but after "The Decision" I'm not convinced The Chosen One is literate) talk with ESPN's Bill Simmons about LeBron's psychology, the tragic death of journalism, and much, much more.

It's like Buzz Bissinger's angry, curmudgeonly brain took a bleep and out came me.

The Gunning Hawk >> Are Arsenal's youth Wenger's summer signings?

The math doesn't add up. Four players gone. Two players injured. And only two players brought in. What's Arsene Wenger up to in this critical summer in Arsenal's development? Maybe Arsene is witnessing the future right before his eyes.


Monday, July 26, 2010

Quick Takes - Take me out to the baaaallgame

I haven't been to a baseball game in a year or so. Not out of protest or anything (although you could argue that my distaste for public support of Bud Selig's product has pushed me away from regular attendance), but mostly because the Seattle Mariners just suck. Yep, they suck. My apologies to our Japanese owner who's never attended a game in person. I will forgive you if you let me design my own game for Nintendo.

It's a sumo-wrestling game for the Wii. Call me.

I'm not a bandwagon guy, I've spent my whole life rooting for teams that don't win, I'm used to it. But if I'm going to physically go to a baseball game, it better be special. I went to a game recently with my wife, so you could argue that that alone is what made it special (aww), but, really, what happened during the game redefined my definition of "special" (or just reinforced it). It wasn't one thing specifically, just a conglomeration of the human experience ... a welding of jaw-dropping stupidity and hilariousness that reminded me what it's like to be around large groups of people. I wouldn't say it made me want to go to a baseball game again, no, it just opened my eyes once more to the true wonders of American life. NPR should've been there to document it.

But instead of NPR, you get a less-pretentious version of it called Me. And you know what that means ... QUICK TAKES!

  • I got a free unfitted Mariners hat upon arrival at Safeco Field, which I think I gave to a homeless man on the way home (you're WELCOME). Have we learned nothing from "Seinfeld"? Also, the irony of that sentence about "a homeless man on the way home" just hit me, and I sincerely apologize to the homeless, as they are an easy and unnecessary target for Internet-based humor. Lack of computers, etc.
  • Standing out by the bullpen before the game, Felix Hernandez was warming up despite the fact that he wasn't pitching that day. I guess that's what pitchers do on their off days: Toss a wad of chew in their mouths, throw some pitches in the bullpen, spit a little (see my photo above), and call it a day. But as Felix wowed fans with every snap of the catcher's glove, a group of dudes (and they really were "dudes") ran up to the bullpen fence and yelled, "Hey Felix! Thanks for the shutout the other night! I have you on my fantasy team! You're finally paying off!" To which Felix quickly replied, "You're welcome, you owe me $20!"
  • I've now discovered that anyone wearing a T-shirt to a Mariners game with skulls, swords, or some sort of skull/sword combination is not there to watch the baseball game. He is there to drink beer, hit on women, and yell obscenities at whoever looks at him funny while he walks laps around the field for four straight hours. He will also, strangely, stand outside the bathroom for lengthy periods of time while holding his cell phone and smirking like an idiot. Is that where people like him find their pick of the litter? Right outside the litter box?
  • Been to a baseball game lately? If not, it turns out that everyone there is rooting for every other team BUT the teams playing. Please take off your Cincinatti Reds jersey, sir, they aren't playing today and you're just confusing your children.
  • We sat next to a man with no teeth who was wearing a Mariners-branded T-shirt that said "#1 Dad!" as he fed his kids packets of Crystal Light and home-brought peanuts from a Ziploc bag. One of his three boys was about 20 years older than the other two and was utterly enthralled by the ability of the Crystal Light packet to turn his bottled water red. Safeco Field is supposed to be a family-friendly environment, but let's not make it a refuge for the cast of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Shudders.
  • Mariners fans got more excited about the damn digital hydroplane race than they did at any other point during the game. I may or may not have mockingly yelled "BLUE!" throughout the race, despite the fact that there was no blue hydroplane in the competition. It was in the shop, I was just rooting for a speedy recovery.
  • In Chicago, everybody sings "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" during the seventh inning stretch at Cubs games as loudly and passionately as they can. It's tradition and it really goes a long way toward bringing fans together. In Seattle, people stand around and wait for that song to be over before launching out of their seats and dancing around like Emily Rose when "Louie, Louie" comes on, which, I contend, is a completely non-sensical song and not worthy of the adoration it receives. Oh baby now me gotta go? What the hell.
  • If I'm walking down the street and I see a sign that says, "CLAP YOUR HANDS!" ... I don't clap my hands. I make a quizzical face and then move on. Why should I clap my hands if I don't feel like clapping my hands? It's preposterous. If I'm watching TV and a commercial comes on for Taco Bell, I don't immediately get in my car and go to Taco Bell. Sometimes I think about going to Taco Bell, but I don't actually do it. I have free will. I make my own decisions. I decide when I'm hungry and what I should eat. At a Mariners game, however, free will is strongly discouraged. When a sign comes on, people profoundly adhere to making noise, chanting a player's name a specific way, or, in the case of the sign, "Let me hear it!", letting whoever the me is in that sign hear whatever it is that he/she is hoping to hear. When a clapping sound comes on, everyone immediately claps along. The second the signs or sounds disappear, everyone stops. It's absolutely terrifying. And we're sure the robots haven't already won?
  • Explain to me the allure of a gigantic mound of hot, sweaty garlic fries.
  • A kid sitting next to me got up to go to the bathroom with his dad (full of teeth, not the #1 Dad from before). He tapped me on the shoulder, handed me a bag of hot peanuts his dad had purchased from a vendor, and said, "Can you hold this?" before walking up the aisle. Now I was holding a stranger's bag of warm peanuts. I do not understand human behavior.
  • Fun fact: The last book Rob Johnson read was "The Bible." Maybe he should read a book on catching. And then one on hitting. And then one on less-creepy fun facts.
  • Around the third inning, two wannabe cast members from "Jersey Shore" showed up in our section wearing LA Angels jerseys (surprisingly, the team the Mariners were playing that day). It was immediately clear that a) they were drunk, b) they were related, and c) they were obnoxious dbags that were going to provide endless entertainment for our section. While hurling slurred insults at Mariners fans in the fifth or sixth inning, a beer vendor came down the aisle and the two brothers yelled "HERE!" to get his attention. They obviously needed more liquor. The section collectively screamed, "Don't serve them!" at the bewildered beer salesman. He served them anyway (why listen to 100 sober people when two drunk kids are going to give you money?) and, a half inning later, on a sweltering summer day, the brothers had finished their beers and were looking a bit shaky excusing themselves from their annoyed row. Not one or two steps onto the stairs and one of the gel-slicked brothers, in mid-walk mind you, passed out and crumpled onto the stairs. He passed out while standing up! Can't say I've seen that before. His brother tried quickly to wake him as security began to descend the aisle, but Tweedledee was lights out and firmly planted. Out of nowhere, four old women appeared around the unconscious boy and started checking his vital signs. I whispered to my wife, "I bet they used to be nurses!" ... because old people obviously can't be nurses anymore once they reach a certain age (I'm an idiot). Alcohol enforcement finally showed up, called the paramedics, and then four paramedics showed up and pulled open his now-ironic Angels jersey, exposing a robust beer gut to the hundreds of people standing and watching. One guy got out of his seat and moved right up next to the scene, taking pictures with his cell phone while the paramedics gave "Are you effing serious?" looks and shooshed him away. The paramedics finally got the kid's eyes open and dead-body carried him up the aisle, placing him on a stretcher that was waiting in the rotunda as fans clapped. Their first non-suggested clap of the day. Whew.
Buy me some peanuts and Craaacker Jacks ...

The Gunning Hawk >> A final farewell to Eduardo

With Arsenal selling former striker Eduardo to Ukranian champions Shakhtar Donetsk for a reported fee of £6m last week, I wave a fond farewell to one of the slickest poachers we've seen at Arsenal in years.

Click "E-mail Erik" and send in your questions (sports and non-sports) to be in the next Q&A!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Michael Jordan vs. ESPN TrueHoop

After reading the recent ESPN TrueHoop post "Magic Johnson sought elite teammates too" in defense of LeBron James' decision to jump the Cleveland ship and head for South Beach, one line stuck out to me like a sore thumb at the bottom of the article:

"What it really comes down to is that Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson can say they wouldn't have stooped to seeking out teammates as good as Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. But bear in mind they also never had to confront the reality of seven years with the kinds of rosters James played on in Cleveland."

Henry Abbott, the TrueHoop guru I respect and admire, used John Hollinger's PER as the basis for his argument about Magic Johnson being blessed to play with such a phenomenal player like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, citing Abdul-Jabbar's individual PER in Magic's first seven seasons. I used that same statistic, however flawed it may be, to try to provide actual data to the readers about the other name he haphazardly mentioned, Michael Jordan, and his so-called "superior" teams that are now being used to absolve LeBron James from his decision to flee from adversity.

Trying to use that argument is, frankly, ignoring the fact that LeBron played with generally good teams, often better on average than Jordan's teams in both players' first seven seasons. I ran through Jordan's and James' first seven seasons in the NBA, removing all players from both teams who played less than 10 games, and found that, at best, the average PER of the team as a whole is basically a draw between Jordan and James, while Jordan was significantly better his rookie season and had much greater consistency year-over-year. While Jordan was better overall individually, LeBron often had higher-ranked individual teammates than Jordan in his starting five too.

Removing Jordan and LeBron from their teams, the difference in their teammates' average PER is almost negligible.

Rookie season

Jordan: Individual (25.8 PER), Chicago average (11.96 PER)
LeBron: Individual (18.3 PER), Cleveland average (12.71 PER)

Year 2

Jordan: Individual (27.5 PER), Chicago average (13.75 PER)
LeBron: Individual (25.7 PER), Cleveland average (11.06 PER)

Year 3

Jordan: Individual (29.8 PER), Chicago average (11.82 PER)
LeBron: Individual (28.1 PER), Cleveland average (11.26 PER)

Year 4

Jordan: Individual (31.7 PER), Chicago average (10.76 PER)
LeBron: Individual (24.5 PER), Cleveland average (11.85 PER)

Year 5

Jordan: Individual (31.1 PER), Chicago average (11.36 PER)
LeBron: Individual (29.1 PER), Cleveland average (11.10 PER)

Year 6

Jordan: Individual (31.2 PER), Chicago average (11.53 PER)
LeBron: Individual (31.7 PER), Cleveland average (12.18 PER)

Year 7

Jordan: Individual (31.6 PER), Chicago average (13.73 PER)
LeBron: Individual (31.1 PER), Cleveland average (12.31 PER)

The only major statistical significance arrives in the seventh season, when Jordan and the Bulls won their first championship. So please, let's all stop acting like LeBron was tortured by his teammates while simlutaneously throwing Michael Jordan under the South Beach-bound bus. Saying Jordan would've done the same thing if he were in LeBron's shoes is laughing off the statistics.

Jordan's teams were, on average over the first seven seasons combined, only 2.9 percent better than LeBron's, while Jordan himself was nearly 10 percent better over that same span.

Done and done.